Cleveland fraudster owes BWC nearly $200,000

Former trucker worked variety of jobs while collecting disability benefits

A Cleveland-area man owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $200,000 after the agency found him working for nearly seven years while collecting disability benefits.

Rodney W. Alberino, 44, of Parma Heights, pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud April 26 in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. He must pay BWC $193,574 in restitution and serve two years of probation.

“We got a tip that Mr. Alberino had been operating a lawn care business and working with his neighbor rehabbing houses while collecting disability benefits,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “Our investigators talked to witnesses, gathered records and shot surveillance video. They found Mr. Alberino performing a number of work activities, including snow removal, landscaping, property maintenance, painting, and siding installation.”

Alberino was working as a truck driver when he was injured on the job in January 2010. He collected BWC benefits until Dec. 28, 2016.

In other fraud news:

A southwest Ohio physician who pleaded guilty April 27 to four counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs also collected $12,068 from BWC for services he did not perform.

In addition to the drug charges, Dr. Timothy Manuel, 59, pleaded guilty in Highland County Common Pleas Court to a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for May 24.

Manuel, who now lives in Missouri, was indicted last year after an investigation by BWC and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy found that he prescribed large amounts of medically-unnecessary oxycodone to numerous patients while working as a doctor at Hillsboro Urgent Care.

Randall Abel, 33, of North Canton, pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge April 25 after BWC found him working as a self-employed automotive repairman while collecting disability benefits.

Acting on a tip, investigators found Abel owning and operating RJ’s Performance Diesel while receiving disability benefits from his former employer, a local construction company.

Abel paid $6,475 in restitution to his former employer and was sentenced in the Stark County Common Pleas Court to two years of probation.

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

Beyond the costs of an injury

By Mark Leung, BWC Technical Medical Specialist,
Recently promoted from the BWC Safety & Hygiene Fellowship program

Occupational health and safety has been a public health focus for many years. Emphasizing worker protection and well-being advances the overall goal of reducing negative health outcomes in the future. The need to address health disparities within the working population is paramount to public health practitioners. In doing so, there have been many discussions about the actual costs of an injury or illness. However, is there a true quantifiable cost an occupational injury or illness creates?

We typically link occupational injuries and illnesses with their financial burden in the form of direct and indirect costs. Direct costs of an injury or illness relates to the medical treatment and rehabilitation of the worker, workers’ compensation costs and legal expenses. Indirect costs may include: lost productivity, training and compensating replacement workers, repairing damaged property, low employee morale, poor community relations, reputation, penalties, etc. The indirect costs of injuries and illnesses vary widely, and may be up to 20 times higher than direct costs.1

These costs are usually in the economic frame of reference for the employer. However, we must not lose sight of the social costs of an occupational injury or illness on the individual, community and societal level. Depending on the severity of the injury or illness, the worker’s quality of life suffers on the individual level. Quality of life goes beyond physical limitations, such as psychological well-being, social interactions and other non-work activities. In some cases, the diminished quality of life is a permanent reality as it influences the worker’s health behaviors and health trajectory for the rest of their lives.

Additionally, the lasting effect of the injury or illness can cause a ripple in an individual’s network. The quality of life for family members and friends may be diminished if they are involved in social interactions and the caregiving process with the affected worker. Even as part of their profession, caregivers and medical professionals carry a burden as a part of the treatment and rehabilitation portion of the process. Every social factor the worker experiences influences the community level in some shape or form. The summation of social costs may influence societal systems, including:

  • Stressing social safety nets;
  • Changing retirement trends;
  • Shaping laws and regulations;
  • Use of medical resources;
  • Changing population health outcomes.

The societal level offers us a call for action in the form of prevention, rather than a reactive approach.

The burden of an occupational injury or illness does not just fall on a worker and the employer. It is truly a social issue that has an impact on multiple layers of society. While it may be difficult to quantify a complete cost of an occupational injury or illness, our efforts to proactively address workplace risks and safeguard worker well-being as public health practitioners remain. Thus, it is ever so important to embrace occupational health and safety beyond the workplace.

1 Source: ASSE

BWC firefighter grants – protecting those who protect us

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

For most of us, doing laundry is a dreaded chore we push to the bottom of our to-do list. For fire departments, it’s critical to keeping firefighters safe and healthy.

Last month, BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison and Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Bill Spurgeon, visited the Genoa Township Fire Department in Westerville to watch its staff do laundry (sort of). The two were actually there to see the department washer extractor in action.

The washer extractor is a specialized washing machine that removes carcinogens and toxins from firefighters’ turnout gear after fighting a blaze. The department purchased the washer extractor with help from BWC’s Firefighter Exposure to Environmental Elements Grant (FEEEG) Program. It used $10,075 in grant funds from BWC to replace an aging extractor that was no longer getting the job done.

“Cancer is a leading threat to firefighter health and we take that threat seriously,” says Genoa Township Fire Chief Gary Honeycutt. “We wanted to make sure we are getting this gear as clean as possible.”

While at the station, Administrator Morrison announced BWC would more than double the funding for the grant program. With good reason. As of February 28, the FEEEG Program had awarded 199 grants totaling $2 million with nearly 250 additional grants pending. The program will continue for a second year beginning July 1 with a funding level of $2 million.

The grant program covers more than just washer extractors. Other common purchases include safety gear (e.g., washable gloves, barrier hoods) and exhaust systems. In April, BWC announced 37 fire departments had received nearly $370,000 in grants to purchase equipment.

BWC developed the program because firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general public, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“We wanted to make an investment to make firefighters aware of the importance of taking care of themselves and taking care of their equipment,” says Administrator Morrison.

Other BWC grant programs

Safety Intervention Grant Program
This program provides a 3-to-1 matching grant (up to a maximum of $40,000) to help Ohio employers purchase equipment to substantially reduce or eliminate injuries and illnesses associated with a particular task or operation. It’s not too late to apply for this fiscal year.

Drug-Free Safety Program Grants
These grants assist employers in implementing a drug-free program in their workplace.

Employers Working with Persons with Developmental Disabilities Grant Program
This program assists Ohio employers with ensuring the safety of their staff when carrying out the services they provide to developmentally disabled children and adults. The program is available to eligible Ohio employers who wish to purchase training and/or equipment to substantially reduce or eliminate injuries or illnesses associated with working with developmentally disabled children and adults.

Workplace Wellness Grants
Employers wanting to improve the health and wellness of their workers can benefit from our Workplace Wellness Grant Program. It provides funding to assist employers in establishing training and programs to reduce health risk factors specific to their employees.

Ohio BWC secures five fraud-related convictions in March

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation secured five fraud-related convictions in March and restitution orders totaling more than $41,000.

Those convicted include a remodeling contractor, a babysitter and the owner of a Dayton drive-thru business, as well as a landscaper and a graphic artist. The following cases bring BWC’s total convictions this year to 12 as of March 31.

“Employers must have workers’ comp insurance to support injured workers in their time of need,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “With these cases closed, we can put their premium dollars back to work caring for injured workers and promoting safety in every Ohio workplace.”

Scott Jones of Perrysburg, Ohio (Wood County), Working and Receiving
Jones was found guilty on March 21 of a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found him remodeling bathrooms, convenience stores and performing other construction work while collecting BWC benefits.

A Franklin County judge ordered Jones to pay BWC $3,957 in restitution by Oct. 30 this year or face 45 days in jail. Jones paid $1,000 toward the restitution when he appeared in court.

 Sharrounda Fuller, Columbus, Ohio (Franklin County), Working and Receiving
Investigators discovered Fuller operating a day care out of her home while collecting workers’ compensation benefits from her self-insured employer. She pleaded guilty March 20 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. She must pay $11,514 in restitution to her former employer, a home health care company, and serve five years of probation, according to her sentence in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

Christine Niffa, dba Christy’s Drive Thru, Dayton, Ohio (Montgomery County), Lapsed Coverage
BWC discovered that Christy’s Drive Thru in Dayton had been operating with lapsed workers’ comp coverage since March 2013. After charges were filed, Niffa appeared in court March 8 and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor. She paid BWC the balance due and her policy was reinstated.

Charles Parry, Plain City, Ohio (Union County), Working and Receiving
BWC investigators found Parry operating a landscaping business for 10 months while receiving temporary total disability benefits. Parry pleaded guilty March 8 to one count of theft, a first-degree misdemeanor. He paid restitution of $6,527 to BWC and was sentenced to one day in jail, suspended for time served.

John Bezusko, Tacoma, Washington, Working and Receiving
Injured on the job in 1991, Bezusko pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud March 5 after investigators found him working in Colorado while collecting BWC benefits. Bezusko must pay $19,530 in restitution to BWC and serve five years probation for the first-degree misdemeanor, according to his sentence in a Franklin County courtroom.

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

A safety program by any other name

PERRP marks 25th anniversary

By Glenn McGinley, Director, Ohio Public Employment Risk Reduction Program

” What’s in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”  ­­— William Shakespeare

When you meet someone what is one of the first things you do? Usually you introduce yourself and ask the person their name. A person’s name is one aspect of their identity, but, the person is much more than their name.

When I meet people and I introduce myself, many times it is in a professional context. So, in addition to my name I will tell people my job title and the organization I represent. That frequently results in a puzzled glance when I tell them I am the director of PERRP.

This Friday, April 20, 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the Ohio Public Employment Risk Reduction Program (PERRP). The anniversary is a significant milestone in Ohio public employee safety and yet, so few people understand what the program does or even that the program exists.

Most people recognize the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and when asked can correctly identify what OSHA does to ensure the safety of workers throughout the country. While OSHA is a more recognizable entity, PERRP is much less recognizable, and many would be hard pressed to explain the acronym or what PERRP does to champion the cause of occupational safety and health.

The purpose and mission of PERRP is to ensure that Ohio public (state and local government) employees have a safe and healthful workplace. The dedicated PERRP team identifies risk factors that could endanger public employees and provides potential solutions to reduce those risks.

During my career with PERRP, explaining the role of the program has been a personal mission. On my journey, I have come to embrace the name and the concepts it conveys. PERRP is an important resource for Ohio public employers and their employees in their efforts to reduce risks that may result in workplace injuries and illnesses.

In the past 25 years, PERRP has identified tens of thousands of risk factors and solutions during inspections and investigations. PERRP recommendations have helped improve the safety and health of public sector workplaces by reducing risk factors. The willingness of public employers to make positive changes has also reduced employee injuries and costs associated with workers’ compensation claims (Figure 1).

While PERRP may not be as well-known as OSHA, I know over the next 25 years the program will continue its mission to improve working conditions for Ohio public employees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: Ohio Public Sector injuries 1993-2018  to date (click to enlarge)
Source: Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation claims data

 

Northeast Ohio man charged in $684K work comp/Social Security fraud scheme

Voicemail greeting exposes scheme

Thomas H. Cannell’s friendly voicemail greeting blew his cover, and now the fireplace salesman from northeast Ohio faces potential prison time and a bill for more than $684,000 for defrauding the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) and the Social Security Administration for decades.

The 62-year-old Cannell, a resident of Northfield Village in Summit County, was charged with theft of government funds and wire fraud Wednesday in the United States District Court in Cleveland after BWC discovered him concealing work income since 1993 while collecting $204,761 in permanent total disability benefits from BWC and $479,288 in Supplemental Security Income from Social Security.

“One of our claims specialists returned a phone call from Mr. Cannell in 2015 and heard the voicemail greeting, ‘Hello, you have reached Tom at Your Fireplace Shop,’” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We took it from there.”

Wernecke said Cannell concocted a scheme to avoid being paid directly by the Summit County business owner. He said the owner had no knowledge of anything illegal going on and cooperated fully with BWC and Social Security investigators.

Sentencing for Cannell has not yet been scheduled. According to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio’s office, the court will first review Cannell’s prior criminal record, if any, his role in the offense and other characteristics of the violation. In all federal cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum. In most cases, it will be less.

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

For Cleveland man, there’s something about workers’ comp fraud

Habitual offender, already in prison, convicted for fifth time on fraud-related charges

Kenneth L. Gilmore doesn’t give up easily, even if the price means prison, probation and steep financial penalties.

After three previous convictions for crimes against the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, the 54-year-old Cleveland man found himself in court again on April 2, where he pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud and other felonies in connection with deceiving hospitals to obtain prescription painkillers.

“Mr. Gilmore filed a legitimate injury claim with us in 2001, but since then he’s filed several fake claims to obtain narcotics and have us pay for it,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigation department.

Taking a break from the Lorain Correctional Institution, where he’s serving a 27-month sentence on similar charges in a federal case, Gilmore pleaded guilty last week in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas to 10 felonies. They include three counts of forgery, a fifth-degree felony (F5), three counts of tampering with records (F3), two counts of deception to obtain dangerous drugs (F2), one count of workers’ compensation fraud (F5) and one count of theft (F5). He was sentenced to 30 months in jail, to be served concurrently with his federal sentence, and ordered to pay BWC $6,075 in restitution.

Gilmore’s previous BWC-related convictions occurred in 2003, 2008 and 2010. The most recent case stems from 2013 and 2014, when he filed false applications for injured-worker benefits at a hospital emergency department in Lorain and at another in Twinsburg in Summit County. The companies he listed as his employers later confirmed Gilmore never worked for them. Gilmore confessed as much when interviewed by BWC agents.

In the federal case, Gilmore posed as an injured U.S. Marshal in 2017 at a Cleveland hospital to obtain narcotics. He was convicted of one count of impersonating a peace officer and five counts of obtaining dangerous drugs by deception.

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