Ohio business owners owe more than $800K following fraud-related convictions

Three Northeast Ohio men owe the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) more than $800,000 after investigators discovered they were operating their businesses without workers’ compensation coverage.

“These business owners learned the hard way they cannot operate their business without workers’ compensation coverage, and now they owe us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “I’m pleased our investigators stopped these employers from continuing to break the law and cheat our system.”

William H. Foster III

William H. Foster III, owner of American Construction Group LTD, pleaded guilty Feb. 11 in a Summit County courtroom to a second-degree misdemeanor of obstructing official business after failing to work with BWC to reinstate his policy. A judge sentenced Foster to credit for time served in jail and to follow the payment agreement he made with the BWC and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to reinstate his policy. Foster owes BWC more than $360,000 in past premiums and penalties.

Paul “Bob” Collier Jr.

In Stark County, Paul “Bob” Collier Jr. and Miklos Fioretto pleaded guilty on Jan. 17 and Feb. 5, respectively, to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud for failing to maintain coverage on their East Sparta, Ohio, business.

Investigators discovered that Fioretto and Collier changed the name of their pallet manufacturing business to avoid paying past premiums and penalties associated with the business.

Both men were sentenced to three years of community service. A condition of probation is to pay BWC restitution of $458,125.

In other news: A Columbus woman was ordered to pay BWC $6,941 in restitution on Tuesday after pleading guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud.

BWC investigators discovered Jamia Smith, 39, working for a staffing firm while concealing that information from BWC to continue collecting disability benefits. A judge also sentenced Smith to three years of probation in lieu of six months in jail. To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit www.bwc.ohio.gov.

Akron business owner convicted of manslaughter, workers’ comp fraud

Company has history of worker injuries, noncompliance with BWC

The owner of an Akron construction company pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter July 24 after one of his workers fell to his death in late 2017.

James D. Coon, the owner of James Coon Construction, also pleaded guilty in a Summit County courtroom to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud. Investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) found Coon lacked BWC coverage when his employee died and that he repeatedly lied about his business to minimize his premiums or avoid paying them altogether.

“This tragic case underscores the critical importance for workplace safety protocols and workers’ compensation insurance,” said BWC Administrator Stephanie McCloud. “Our investigation found Mr. Coon willfully and deliberately disregarded his responsibilities under the law, and now several lives are devastated by it.”

Gerardo “Jerry” Juarez Sr., a 39-year-old married father of five, died Nov. 4, 2017, at the scene of his fall. It was his second day on the job. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration notified BWC of the accident four days later.

According to BWC’s special investigations department, Juarez was working on a sloped roof of a 3-story apartment complex without a fall protection device when he slipped and fell 25 feet to his death. Among the investigation’s findings:

  • Two other Coon employees were injured in falls prior to Juarez’s death, also during a time when Coon lacked BWC coverage.
  • Coon told BWC he no longer operated his business. But in March 2018 — five months after Juarez’s death — agents observed six Coon employees at a worksite tearing shingles from a roof. They had no safety equipment.
  • Coon consistently reported to BWC over the years of having no employees. A BWC audit found nearly $286,000 in payroll to employees from July 1, 2009 through July 1, 2018.

Coon owes BWC $303,152 to date for unpaid premiums and claims costs for workers injured during a policy lapse. His conviction for involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony, is punishable by a maximum five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Sentencing is set for August 21.

BWC safety services and grants: BWC offers free safety consultations and grant dollars to assist employers with the purchase of equipment that improves workplace safety. For more, visit bwc.ohio.gov and click on the Safety & Training link.

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