Top 5 posts of 2018

Another year is coming to a close! It’s been our pleasure to share a wide range of topics with you in 2018.

In 115 posts, we covered topics ranging from driving safety and return-to-work stories to our Ohio State Fair booth and conference activities. As always, Fridays are set aside to share fraud related updates. Whatever the topic, we appreciate your readership!

Just in case you missed them, here are the most popular posts from 2018:

  1. Look out for our deer friends on the road
  2. OSC18 – The postgame wrap-up
  3. Back-to-school safety tips for drivers as distracted pedestrian numbers rise
  4. Ohio State Fair tickets up for grabs!
  5. AASCIF 2018: Connecting with industry peers and experts

If there are topics you’d like to read about in 2019, we want to hear from you. Just leave a comment on this post and we’ll do our best to make it happen.

For now, we wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Auld Lang Syne…

Standout fraud cases in 2018

By Melissa Vince, BWC Public Relations Manager

Soon we’ll all be counting down and singing that classic New Year’s song to say farewell to 2018 and hello to 2019. Or maybe you’re like me and you’ll wake up at 12:05 a.m. to realize you missed another countdown.

In the spirit of Auld Lang Syne, which roughly translates as “for old times’ sake,” we thought we’d look back at some of our more notable cases in 2018. Since January, we shared 48 blogs covering claimant, provider and employer workers’ compensation fraud cases. The following cases stand out in our memory:

Thanks for your support this year. We were proud to celebrate our 25th year of investigating, detecting and deterring fraud in Ohio. Now it’s on to 26!

And thanks for following the BWC Fraud Blog. We hope you’ll stay tuned here in 2019 for more on the latest news and information on workers’ comp fraud in Ohio. Don’t forget to also follow our Facebook page.

Cheers! Okay, everyone now: Should auld acquaintance be forgot….

Safety council brightens Christmas for deceased worker’s family

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

On Nov. 4, 2017, Mison Woo received the life-changing news. That was the day her husband, Gerardo “Jerry” Juarez, died on the job.

The 39-year-old father of five was working as a roofer at a work site in Akron alongside a few colleagues when he slipped on the damp cedar roof of an apartment building, slid to the edge and rolled over a jack board before falling three stories to the ground.

A report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed Gerardo and his co-workers were not using fall-arrest equipment and had not received training from their employer on fall hazards. OSHA would eventually fine the employer nearly $150,000.

Since that day, a mother and her family have dealt with the reality of losing a husband and father suddenly and far too soon. Last Thanksgiving and Christmas were especially trying times for a family still coming to terms with such a tragic loss.

A mission to help

A year later, members of the Canton-Akron (CAK) Safety Council made it their mission to give the family a brighter and merrier Christmas. It started with the council’s steering committee floating the idea of the council and NE Ohio OSHA Area Office adopting the family for the holidays. Deb Bailey, BWC’s liaison to the CAK Safety Council, got the greenlight and pitched the idea to OSHA Area Director Howie Eberts. He loved the idea and reached out to the family.

Bailey recalls the council first hearing about Gerardo’s incident and its aftermath when Eberts gave an OSHA update at a council meeting shortly after the fatal incident occurred. For Eberts, the investigation had been different than most.

By coincidence, he met some of the family at the incident site when they came to retrieve Gerardo’s cell phone. Eberts introduced himself to Mison and two of her children who were with her, including her son, Gerardo Jr., and explained why he was at the site. He later recalled Junior’s heartbreaking demeanor.

He told the safety council’s members that when he looked at the son, he saw a look of total disbelief that his father was gone. Eberts, with a family and children of his own, remembered it really hitting home because he wondered what would happen to his family under similar circumstances.

Coming together for a family

Fast forward to the November 2018 CAK Safety Council meeting. At the meeting the council heard the idea of adopting the Juarez family and supported it 100 percent. “Every year, we do something to give back to the community around this time of year,” Bailey says. “Supporting this family, that the council had heard so much about, seemed like the perfect idea.”

That day alone, the council collected $500 in gift card donations for the family. In the weeks after, BWC employees, council members and OSHA employees collected even more. The final tally ended up being more than $2,500 in gifts, cash and gift cards for the family. Last Wednesday, the CAK Safety Council prepped the gifts at the North Canton Chamber of Commerce. Last Friday, Eberts (as Santa) and CAK Safety Council members (his elves) delivered everything to Mison at her workplace.

A year ago, Eberts crossed paths with a family in its darkest hour. This year, he and so many others got to give them some brightness and joy for Christmas.

Home Depot shopping trip blows fraudster’s cover

Mentor man caught working as handyman while collecting BWC benefits

A northeast Ohio landscaper must pay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) a little more than $5,000 in restitution after the agency’s investigators found him working while collecting injured-worker benefits.

Jason Dudas, 39, of Mentor, pleaded guilty Dec. 13 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. A judge ordered Dudas to pay BWC $5,073 in restitution and serve three years of non-reporting probation.

“We got a tip that Mr. Dudas might be working after someone spotted him getting into a truck loaded with construction supplies at a Home Depot store,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We checked it out and found Mr. Dudas working as a handyman while collecting BWC benefits. This behavior isn’t just illegal, it’s expensive and unfair because it drives up the costs of our workers’ comp system for everyone.”

In other business, a Toledo-area business owner pleaded guilty to attempted failure to comply with the law Dec. 3 after BWC discovered him running a business without workers’ compensation coverage to protect his employees.

Brian Lang, owner of Outdoor Inspirations of Holland, Ohio, pleaded guilty to the third-degree misdemeanor charge in Sylvania Municipal Court after paying $5,304 toward the balance he owes BWC. A judge scheduled sentencing for Jan. 28.

“Our investigation revealed Mr. Lang had several employees and therefore he absolutely should be carrying workers’ compensation insurance,” said Wernecke. “We put him on notice to become compliant with the law, but he failed to do that and that’s why he found himself in court Dec. 3.”

Outdoor Inspirations is a specialty landscaping and tree service company, according to its website. The company’s workers’ comp policy remains lapsed.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

How to avoid road rage during the season of peace

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

People have a lot to stress about right now. Making six dozen cookies for the neighbor’s cookie exchange. Psyching yourself up for Christmas dinner with the in-laws. Hearing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” for the 20th time in the past 24 hours.

It’s enough to make even the calmest person edgy. Put them behind the wheel of a car, and it can mean real trouble. But in all seriousness, the added stressors of the holidays can contribute to increased instances of road rage. When a driver experiences road rage (as the victim or the perpetrator), the potential to crash a vehicle increases. Road rage usually encompasses four emotions: anger, impatience, competing and punishment.

When people drive angry, it usually shows itself in tell-tale signs, such as: speeding; cutting others off; tailgating; erratic lane changes, etc. Impatience makes drivers feel easily annoyed by other drivers and pedestrians. Impatient drivers react more strongly to things like slower drivers, not being able to pass another vehicle or with pedestrians crossing the street.

The urge to compete can include challenging other drivers when lanes merge or for limited parking spaces. Competing often leads to punishing behaviors such as: blocking other cars trying to merge; riding too close to other cars; cursing and making obscene gestures to other drivers; seeking to encounter another driver.

Never resort to punishing behaviors. If you believe another driver wants to start a fight, seek help – head for a police station. Do not get out of your car, and avoid going home alone. In some states, there are special telephone num­bers to report aggressive drivers. Here in Ohio, you can call 1-800-GRAB DUI.

Thankfully, there are also several strategies we can all take to minimize the potential dangers of road rage, including:

  • Not reacting to provocation – don’t offend, don’t engage.
  • Steering clear of erratic drivers.
  • Avoiding eye contact with aggressive drivers.
  • Using your horn sparingly.
  • Not making obscene gestures.
  • Not switching lanes without signaling.
  • Not blocking the passing lane.
  • Not tailgating.
  • Not taking more than one parking space.
  • Being polite and courteous even if other drivers are not.
  • Avoiding conflict, and allowing plenty of time for your trip.

The potential per­sonal costs of road rage can be high, including crashes, injuries, disabilities and even loss of life. Remember to keep things in perspective when you’re behind the wheel, and give yourself enough time to get to your destination safely – even if it’s to your in-laws’ house.

Cleveland-area businessman convicted of workers’ comp fraud

‘Disabled’ man plows snow, mows lawns

A northeast Ohio business owner must pay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $34,000 in restitution after the agency found him working and running a business while collecting disability benefits.

Gabriel Seda of Grafton, Ohio, pleaded guilty Dec. 6 through a Bill of Information to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. A judge in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas ordered Seda to reimburse BWC $33,960 and sentenced him to five years of probation in lieu of a year in prison.

“Our investigation found Mr. Seda plowing snow, mowing lawns and landscaping for a business he owned, GS Snow Removal and Lawn Care,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “Clearly, he wasn’t so disabled that he couldn’t work.”

In other news, the owner of a graphic design and screen-printing shop in Springfield who failed to turn herself in to the court earlier this year pleaded guilty to “failure to comply” Dec. 3 after BWC’s fugitive task force tracked her down in November.

A judge fined Beth Turner, owner of Flashions LTD in Springfield, $100 and court costs for the minor misdemeanor charge. Turner’s conviction followed a BWC investigation that found her running her business with employees under lapsed BWC coverage. She was charged in May after she stopped cooperating with BWC to bring her policy back into compliance. She has since done so.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

‘Tis the season for parking-lot perils

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Let’s face it, parking lots can be harrowing under the best of circumstances. Throw in wintry weather and/or holiday shopping, and the mayhem increases exponentially.

However, there are steps you can take to make navigating them a little less scary. First, let’s talk about walking hazards.

Whether you’re at work or at the mall, remember to slow down and focus on walking (putting your phone away helps) when there is snow and ice. Check the weather forecast and plan your footwear accordingly. Snow boots are better than two or three-inch heels when an ice storm is in the forecast. Finally, walk with your feet turned outward and in small shuffling steps when pos­sible. You know, like a duck.

It’s always important to practice personal security in park­ing areas, but even more so when shopping during the holidays.

  • Park in well-lit areas and scan the parking lot for threats while leaving or arriving at your vehicle.
  • Avoid shopping alone whenever possible.
  • Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason.
  • Have your keys ready – to help you enter and exit your vehicle quickly.
  • Do not leave new purchases in plain view in your vehicle. Put bags and packages in the trunk.
  • Don’t overload yourself with bags. Doing so makes you an easy target, and can make it easier to slip and fall on ice or snow.
  • Above all – stay alert and aware of your surroundings always. Not to harp on it, but putting your phone away helps.

Limited spaces and frantic shoppers can turn parking lots into a free-for-all at this time of year.

The following tips will make your next trip to the mall safer and happier.

  • Be aware and look in all direc­tions as you travel.
  • Drive slowly and watch for cars that might be cutting diagonally across the lot.
  • Use turn signals and yield the right of way to cars travelling along aisles.
  • Look for spots where you can pull through and face out to prevent the need for backing out.

Try to park in the center of a parking space. Don’t be the person who parks over the line, diagonal or not into a space far enough. Doing so may not give other drivers enough room to park their car without harming yours.

Spending just a little extra time to park will improve your chances of avoiding an accident.

Southwest Ohio business owner gets prison time, hefty fine for work comp fraud

Business owner defrauded BWC of $425K

The owner of a former payroll services company in southwest Ohio was sentenced to six months in federal prison and fined $10,000 today for defrauding the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) out of more than $425,000.

John R. Cacaro, 59, owner of the now-defunct Employers Choice Plus LLC, also must serve one year of house arrest and three years of supervised release under a sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson in the U.S. District Court for southern Ohio.

“Multiple businesses entrusted Mr. Cacaro with processing their payroll and remitting insurance premiums to our agency and he broke that trust,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “Justice was served today and I can’t thank our partners in this investigation enough, the IRS Criminal Investigation unit and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.”

Cacaro was convicted in June on wire fraud and money laundering charges after BWC and IRS investigators discovered a scheme he concocted to short BWC on the insurance premiums he received from employers and pocket the difference.

“John Cacaro made a conscious decision to keep over $425,000 in workers’ compensation premiums so he could live a lavish lifestyle that included the purchase of a second residence in Naples, Florida, and a motor home,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner. “Now he is a convicted felon headed to prison.”

At his sentencing today, Cacaro submitted a cashier’s check to the court for $425,247 in restitution to BWC. He noted that he has voluntarily closed Employers Choice Plus and he will likely have gainful employment through his car transportation business when he leaves prison.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Drug-trafficking nurse practitioner, other work comp cheats convicted in November

Eight Ohioans convicted on workers’ compensation fraud or related charges in November include a Springfield nurse practitioner who pleaded guilty to felony drug trafficking and a Cleveland-area man who collected $245,000 in disability benefits while working construction jobs since 2009.

Douglas Shrewsbury pleaded guilty Nov. 16 to several drug charges in the Clark County Court of Common Pleas after multiple authorities found him running a pain clinic without a proper license. The charges included aggravated trafficking in drugs, a first-degree felony, aggravated possession of drugs, a second-degree felony, and Medicaid fraud, a fourth-degree felony.

“Mr. Shrewsbury wrote 56 prescriptions for schedule II narcotics to injured workers in our system without an overseeing physician, which is beyond his scope and illegal,” said Jim Wernecke, director of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation special investigations department.

Other agencies involved in the investigation included lead agency the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the Springfield Police Department, Ohio Board of Nursing, State Medical Board of Ohio, Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, and the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.

Shrewsbury’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 27.  

In the Cleveland-area case, Louis Cooper of North Royalton pleaded guilty Nov. 19 in a federal courtroom to one count of theft of government property and wire fraud. He was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond and must surrender his passport and participate in a pre-sentence investigation prior to his March 5 sentencing.

Acting on a tip, BWC investigators found Cooper working as a self-employed general contractor, installing flooring and drywall and remodeling bathrooms. Due to concealing his work activity, Cooper fraudulently secured approximately $245,000 in benefits from the Social Security Administration and BWC, of which $167,000 came from BWC.

In order of most recent court appearance, other BWC subjects convicted in November include:

Dean Richards of Lancaster
Richards pleaded guilty Nov. 29 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC agents found him working as a construction subcontractor while receiving permanent disability benefits from BWC. He was sentenced to 23 days in jail, credited for time served, and ordered to pay BWC $6,614 in restitution.

James T. Wilson Jr, dba Performance Companies, of New Albany
Wilson pleaded guilty Nov. 19 in a Columbus courtroom to a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply after BWC investigators found him operating Performance Companies LLC/Enviro Recycling Group without workers’ compensation coverage. Sentencing will occur after BWC finishes auditing his business records.

Dwayne Dotson of Cleveland
Dotson pleaded guilty Nov. 14 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after BWC found him working as a self-employed general contractor while receiving disability benefits. He was given three years of probation and ordered to pay BWC $14,453 in restitution.

Yue Liang, dba New Sheng Hung, of Cleveland
Liang pleaded guilty Nov. 13 to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud after he lapsed on a repayment plan related to his 2014 conviction on a similar charge. The food warehouse and market owner agreed to pay BWC $5,500 toward the balance owed to the agency and an additional $2,000 in restitution. He was sentenced to one year of community control and ordered to bring his policy into compliance.

Douglas Rheaume of New Franklin
Rheaume pleaded guilty Nov. 13 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found the former sheriff’s deputy operating a baseball training facility and working as an insurance agent while collecting BWC benefits. A judge sentenced Rheaume to a suspended nine-month prison term and ordered him to serve two years of probation. Additionally, he was ordered to pay $56,000 in restitution to BWC.

Stephanie Terry, dba Universal Fleet & Tire Service, of Cincinnati
Terry pleaded guilty Nov. 5 to one count of obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found her operating her business with employees and lapsed BWC coverage. Two of her employees had filed injury claims while the coverage was lapsed. Terry paid $27,947 to BWC for the balance she owed the agency.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Older Ohioans: Know your abilities and options to stay on the road safely

Posted on the BWC Blog with permission from our friends at the Ohio Department of Aging and Ohio Department of Transportation.

Because being able to get around in the community is critical for older Ohioans to remain independent and healthy, the Ohio Department of Aging and the Ohio Department of Transportation are partnering to increase awareness of available resources for older drivers during Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, Dec. 3-7, 2018.

Drivers age 65 and older represent the fastest-growing segment of licensed drivers in Ohio and across the nation. While older drivers are among the safest drivers on our roads, they may be more likely to be seriously injured in a crash. Ohio has seen four consecutive years of rising traffic deaths involving drivers age 65 and older.

To maintain their mobility, older Ohioans should become aware of their changing abilities, understand the factors that can increase the risk of a crash and learn about resources in their communities to maintain their driving ability or find alternatives to driving.

Normal aging may increase common risk factors for roadway accidents, including changes in vision, hearing, strength, visibility, reflexes and memory. Medical conditions and certain medications also may impact the ability to drive safely. Older drivers also may drive older vehicles that no longer fit their needs (e.g., too big or too small, or seats, steering wheel and mirrors do not adjust sufficiently). Finally, a fear of driving and traffic can increase the risk of a crash.

Tips for older driver safety:

  • Stay aware of your changing physical, vision and hearing abilities and adjust your driving habits accordingly. Exercise regularly to increase and maintain your strength and flexibility.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any medical conditions you have or medications you take could make it unsafe to drive.
  • Try to do most of your driving during daylight and in good weather. Avoid busy roadways and rush hours whenever possible.
  • Plan your route before you drive and choose routes with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn signals and easy parking.
  • Avoid distractions while driving, including talking or texting on a cell phone, eating, or listening to a loud radio. In-car conversations can also be distracting.
  • Leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front of you so that you can react if the other driver stops or slows suddenly.
  • Do not drive too slowly, as this can be as unsafe as speeding.

The Ohio Department of Aging offers a webpage (www.aging.ohio.gov/transportation) of transportation and driving tips and resources for older adults. The page includes a link to “Stay Fit to Drive,” a publication of the Ohio Department of Transportation that includes statistics about older driver crashes and tips to reduce key risk factors.