Three Ohio businesses plead in work comp fraud cases

Two owners owe a combined $78K in back premiums

Two business owners from Bellefontaine, Ohio, that owe approximately $78,000 in back premiums to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation can avoid fines and jail time if they bring their BWC policies back into compliance later this year, a municipal judge ruled June 12.

“Letting your workers’ compensation coverage lapse is a serious matter that puts employees and businesses at risk for potentially staggering medical costs and related expenses,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We tried to work with these owners, but they ultimately didn’t do what they needed to do to avoid criminal charges.”

Jason Brown, the owner of the trucking company Bolts Carriers LLC in Bellefontaine, pleaded no contest to two second-degree misdemeanor counts of Failure to Comply after BWC found he defaulted on a reinstatement payment plan in September 2015. Prior to sentencing, Brown paid approximately $1,900 toward his balance of more than $55,000. He has until Dec. 12 to bring his policy into compliance or he could face 20 days jail and a $450 fine on each of the two charges.

In a separate case, the owner of a boat canvas shop in Bellefontaine whose policy lapsed 18 years ago has until Sept. 1 to bring the company’s policy into compliance. One week prior to sentencing, Desee McIntosh of Custom Canvas remitted a $1,000 payment toward his balance of more than $23,000. He pleaded no contest to three second-degree misdemeanor counts of Failure to Comply. He faces 30 days in jail and $450 in fines for each count.

In other news, the owner of The Gyro Spot Bar & Grill in Parma, Ohio, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of Attempted Workers’ Compensation Fraud, a second-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found his business lacked workers’ comp coverage.

As BWC agents worked with owner John Triskett to bring his business into compliance, they found he intentionally under-reported his payroll and used other inaccurate information to keep his policy payments significantly less than the amount he actually owed.

A judge sentenced Triskett to 30 days in jail (suspended), six months of probation and ordered Triskett to pay a $100 fine and $1,140 in restitution to BWC.

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

National Safety Month: Slips, trips and falls are no joke

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Pratfalls in television and movies can be comedy gold. Chevy Chase practically built his career on them. But slips, trips and falls at home or at work are no joke.

Stats from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show most general industry incidents involve slips, trips and falls, causing 15 percent of all accidental deaths. Here in Ohio, 1 out of every 6 workplace fatalities involve slips, trips, and falls.

Slips, trips and falls can be fatal outside of work too. In fact, they’re the fourth leading cause of deaths in the home.

Stats like the ones above are the reason preventing slips, trips and falls are a major focus of our current safety campaign. It’s also why we participated in last month’s National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls.

The good news is slips, trips and falls are almost always preventable if we all just pay a little more attention and take a few, simple precautions. For example:

  • Keeping walking areas clear and dry.
  • Using proper footwear for the job.
  • Placing ladders on clean, dry, stable surfaces.
  • Looking around before starting a task.

Finally, office environments aren’t immune from hazards, including slips, trips and falls. This article from the National Safety Council (NSC) has helpful information on recognizing and eliminating hidden dangers in the office.

For additional information, visit the NSC’s National Safety Month webpage.

Eight Ohioans plead to work comp fraud-related charges in May

The eight Ohioans who pleaded guilty and no contest in May to fraud-related charges against the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) include a homicide suspect, a Cincinnati bus driver who collected disability benefits while working two other jobs, and a health care provider who billed BWC for work his company didn’t perform.

“Our convictions in May illustrate a range of fraud types that we see at BWC, some more serious than others,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “But regardless of severity, we approach each case with equal determination to find the truth, prosecute the guilty and reclaim funds that support injured workers and create safer workplaces in our state.”

The cases, in order of most recent court date, include:

Samantha Coleman, Cincinnati — Working and Receiving
Coleman was working as a bus driver for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) when she was injured on the job in November 2015. While collecting disability benefits from SORTA, she continued to work her other two jobs as a tax preparer and security guard.

Coleman pleaded guilty May 30 in Hamilton County to one count of worker’s compensation fraud and one count of theft, both fifth-degree felonies. She was placed in the county’s diversion program because she had no prior record. Over the next year, she must reimburse SORTA $7,088, complete 120 hours of community service and participate in a counseling program.  If she successfully completes these requirements the case will be dismissed and she will not receive a conviction.

Bryan Gentry, Canal Fulton — Tampering with Records
Gentry pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony count of Tampering with Records after SID determined he created a phony BWC certificate of coverage to secure a tree-trimming job in Stark County. The judge sentenced him to a year in prison, to be served concurrently with a three-year term for assault and receiving stolen property.

Gentry, who’s imprisoned in Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, is also a suspect in the 2017 killing of a Stark County man who was romantically involved with Gentry’s girlfriend.

Gabriella Benkovits, Lakewood — Working and Receiving
Benkovits pleaded guilty May 22 to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found her working as a bartender while collecting disability income. She must pay BWC $7,595 in restitution and serve two years of probation.

Jeffrey Guerin, Willoughby Hills — Services Not Rendered
Guerin pleaded guilty in a Franklin County court to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud. BWC found him billing the agency for work his now-defunct company, PT Plus in Willoughby Hills, did not perform. Guerin paid $7,154 in restitution to BWC and agreed to leave the BWC network of providers.

Carolyn Tibbetts, Toledo — Lapsed Coverage
Tibbets, the owner of Little Explorers Toledo Learning Center, pleaded no contest May 17 to three charges of failure to comply after investigators found her operating her child care center without BWC coverage. Tibbets worked with BWC to bring her businesses into compliance, but she failed to continue payments on a balance of more than $12,000. The charges are second-degree misdemeanors.

A judge referred her case to Lucas County’s probation department to be considered for its Alternatives Program. No further court action will be taken against Tibbetts if she’s accepted into the program.

Marshall Winn IV, Niles — Working and Receiving
Winn, a truck driver from northeast Ohio, pleaded guilty May 14 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found him working while collecting disability benefits. A Franklin County judge sentenced him to five years of probation in lieu of nine months in prison and ordered him to pay BWC $12,450 in restitution and court costs.

Brooke Mobley, Dayton — Working and Receiving
Mobley pleaded guilty May 9 in Franklin County to one count of theft, a first-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found she had returned to work as an office worker while collecting disability benefits from BWC. A judge fined Mobley $200 plus court costs in lieu of a 60-day jail sentence. Mobley paid BWC $5,455 in restitution prior to her sentencing.

Judith Barlock, Parma — Lapsed Coverage
Barlock, the owner of Chase Professional Transport, failed to bring her company back into compliance after BWC discovered her policy had lapsed. She pleaded guilty May 2 to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor. A judge sentenced her to 90 days in jail (60 days suspended) and five years of probation. The court deferred the balance of jail time and $750 of her fine until a June 20 probation review. The amount of restitution owed BWC will be determined at that review.

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

National Safety Month: Worker wellness and workplace safety – a dynamic duo

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Abbott and Costello, peanut butter and jelly, R2-D2 and C-3PO. Some people, foods and droids are just better together. The same goes for employee wellness and workplace safety.

The National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute recently released a report stating workplaces should expand beyond initiatives such as smoking cessation and weight loss to include health and safety issues such as fitness, nutrition, workplace fatigue, overtime management and job security.

This same approach is the foundation for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH’s) Total Worker Health® Program. As a Total Worker Health Affiliate, we work with NIOSH to foster and reinforce an integrated approach to protecting and promoting worker well-being. We’re also committed to improving the health and wellness of Ohio workers with programs such as our recently launched Better You, Better Ohio!™ program and our workplace wellness grants.

Our Better You, Better Ohio! program provides health and wellness resources and services to workers who work for small employers (50 or fewer workers) in high-risk industries. Eligible employers and workers can sign up at no cost and through a simple, paperless process. Workers can pursue a healthier lifestyle through:

  • Free health assessments and biometric screenings to better understand their health and well-being.
  • A member engagement website that allows them to develop health plans and track their progress to achieve their health goals.
  • Health and wellness awareness, education and training.
  • Digital coaching to help them on their journey to better health.

Meanwhile, Ohio employers can reap the benefits of having a healthy workforce. Healthy employees are less prone to injury. And, when they are injured, their ability to recover is enhanced greatly.

While we’re working for Ohioans, the National Safety Council (NSC) is promoting wellness as this week’s National Safety Month theme. Visit the NSC website for materials like this wellness tip sheet.

Ohio murder suspect defrauds state work comp bureau

Northeast Ohio tree trimmer falsified coverage certificate

One month after his alleged role in murdering his girlfriend’s other lover in February 2017, Bryan T. Gentry created a phony proof-of-coverage certificate from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) to land a tree-trimming job and avoid paying for actual coverage.

The Stark County man’s handiwork earned him a one-year prison sentence May 24 when a Summit County judge found him guilty of tampering with records, a third-degree felony. On the same day, the judge also found Gentry, 27, of Canal Fulton, guilty for the second-degree felonious assault of an Akron man last year, a crime apparently unrelated to his BWC case or to one involving a deadly love triangle.

“It seems our case might be the least of Mr. Gentry’s legal troubles right now, but we can’t let unrelated crimes stop us from doing our job,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “Our job is to deter, detect and prevent worker’s comp fraud. We don’t let anyone slide.”

The judge gave Gentry three years in prison for the assault charge, to be served concurrently with his sentence for tampering and still another prison sentence he earned in December for receiving stolen property. Police tracked Gentry down last year after finding his mail in a stolen truck.

In the BWC case, Wernecke said a customer of Gentry’s tree service contacted the agency last summer after he suspected Gentry’s BWC certificate wasn’t legitimate. Two clues tipped off the customer, an insurance salesman: The certificate lacked a policy number, and Gentry noted a policy period of one day, “3/10/2017 through 3/10/2017.” BWC’s practice is to note a full policy year, such as 07/01/2016 through 06/30/2017.

BWC agents determined Gentry doctored a relative’s certificate to look like his own so he and his six workers could get the job. Agents interviewed Gentry on Jan. 31 at the Lorain Correctional Institution in Grafton, Ohio, where he lied and denied forging the certificate, but was “soft-spoken and very well-mannered” while doing it, they said.

Two days later, Gentry’s life got more complicated. Acting on a tip from Gentry’s girlfriend, Stark County authorities recovered the body of 25-year-old man from the backyard of his Massillon home. They found him in a plastic tote, encased in concrete and buried six feet below ground.

For more on that case, see these articles in the Massillon Independent and People magazine.

Gentry has since been relocated to the Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield.

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

National Safety Month: If you don’t care about your safety, who will?

By Melissa Vince, BWC Public Relations Manager

Workplace accidents can uproot our lives in so many ways. Not only do we need medical care and time to recover, we may not be able to quickly return to work or family and community activities.

That’s why BWC takes time every June to talk about National Safety Month and the importance of safety and prevention of on-the-job injuries.

This year, we’re doing more than just talking about safety. We’re taking an entirely new approach.

Dr. Abe Al-Tarawneh, Superintendent of BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene, details our efforts in this letter to the editor recently published in the Cambridge Daily Jeffersonian.

Dear editor,

Slips, trips and falls, overexertions and motor vehicle accidents are responsible for more than 60 percent of disabling workplace injuries. In the workplace, most of these accidents are preventable by establishing a strong safety culture throughout the organization.

But, these types of accidents don’t just happen at work – they’re very common at home, too. Because we at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation care about Ohio employees no matter where they are, we dedicated $2 million statewide to raise awareness for safety and education to address these common accidents as part of our $44 million safety pledge.

This is an entirely new approach for the BWC. Typically, we strive to reach Ohio’s workers through employers. For this initiative, we’re targeting Ohioans, like you, directly. You may have already seen our 30-second commercial on FOX Sports Ohio – it’s the one with the guardian angels, an instantly recognizable symbol of protection. Instead of scaring or shaming individuals into being safe, we have taken a humorous approach to get Ohioans talking about safety in a positive way.

It’s human nature to think that accidents will never happen to you, therefore, many of those most at risk for injury through slips, trips, falls, overexertions and driving related accidents do not have safety and injury prevention top-of-mind throughout the day. Hopefully, this unexpected humorous approach to safety not only caught your attention and made you laugh, but also inspired you to feel empowered to take your safety into your own hands and practice safe behaviors no matter where you are. As our guardian angel reminds us – “If you don’t care about your safety, who will?”

This approach builds on our current successful safety efforts. Those efforts, which are primarily aimed at helping employers create safer workplaces, have led to fewer work-related injuries and the lowest number of claims in at least two decades. These programs have also proven popular, as the Division of Safety & Hygiene saw a 71 percent increase in the number of employers using its safety programs and services between 2010 and 2015.

Keep an eye out for us this summer – we’ll be sharing our safety message throughout Ohio. You can also learn more about our effort to create a culture of safety in Ohio by visiting BeSafeOhio.com.

Dr. Abe Al-Tarawneh, Superintendent, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene

We’ll also be sharing more this National Safety Month right here on the the BWC Blog.

Each week has a different theme. Keep an eye out for more on these topics in the coming weeks:

  • Week 1: Emergency Preparedness
  • Week 2: Wellness
  • Week 3: Falls
  • Week 4: Driving

Be Safe Ohio!

Eight hot safety tips for summer

By Michelle Francisco, BWC Safety Council Program Manager

Heat is one of the leading weather-related causes of death and injury in the U.S. It’s also one of the most preventable.

Summer isn’t officially here yet, but now’s as good a time as any to remind folks they can still enjoy the summertime weather without putting themselves or others in danger.

Below are eight helpful tips to be heat smart this summer:

  1. If you’re working outside, stay hydrated and take breaks in the shade often. Don’t wait to drink water until you’re thirsty!
  2. Use a buddy system if you’re working in excessive temperature conditions.
  3. Don’t leave kids or pets alone in the car.
  4. Limit strenuous outdoor activities, especially during the hottest parts of the day. Scheduling strenuous activities in the early a.m. hours can reduce your risk as well.
  5. Wear light colored and loose clothing. Dark colors absorb the sun’s rays.
  6. If you do not have air conditioning, create a plan for where you can go for heat relief – especially during the hottest parts of the day (libraries, theaters, malls, etc.).
  7. Ensure your pets have shade and plenty of water if they’re outside.
  8. Check on family, friends and neighbors who are elderly and sick and may not have adequate protection from the heat.

For those who work outside as part of their job, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration has a wealth of information on its Occupational Exposure to Heat webpage.

Whether at work or at play, symptoms of heat overexertion can range from mild (heat exhaustion) to life-threatening (heat stroke). Preparing yourself for the heat is an often overlooked first step. Watch the weather forecast, get enough rest, stay hydrated, avoid caffeine and alcohol and dress appropriately.

For more safety tips and information to stay safe this summer, visit BeSafeOhio.com.