Special investigations department concludes FY 2019 with impressive results

By Jim Wernecke, Director, BWC Special Investigations Department

It’s getting harder and harder for the criminally minded to rip off BWC and the State Insurance Fund and get away with it.

That was the message I took to BWC’s board of directors Thursday afternoon when I presented the board with the Special Investigations Department’s annual report for FY 2019, which closed June 30. The report details another impressive year of our department’s efforts to deter, detect, investigate, and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud.

Here are some highlights in what was our 26th year as a department:

  • We closed 1,732 fraud cases, 7% more than in 2018.
  • We secured 101 convictions of claimants, employers, and health care providers who defrauded our agency.
  • For every dollar we spent on our efforts, we saved the state fund nearly $5.
  • We reduced our investigation time per case by 2.9 days on average, to 189 investigative days, our lowest number on this measure since 2005.
  • All told, we saved the state fund $65.1 million in 2019, an 8 % increase over 2018’s numbers.

We couldn’t have achieved this success without the 119 dedicated staff members who serve our department with great skill, resourcefulness, and determination to bring justice to those who cheat our system. Their efforts create safer workplaces and ensure those who attempt to commit fraud in workers’ compensation are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

In 2019, our investigative teams continued to work closely with the law enforcement community at the local, state, and federal levels. We collaborated on several investigations, including cases involving physicians running pill mills in Ohio and surrounding states.

In addition, our teams joined other state and federal investigators participating in the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, the Ohio Medicaid Prescription Program Integrity Group, and the Pill Mill Coordination team for the Ohio Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

As we commence our 27th year in FY 2020, we remain united in our commitment to protecting the State Insurance Fund for injured workers and the Ohio workers and employers it serves. We join our colleagues throughout this agency in delivering the people of this state the world-class workers’ compensation system they deserve.

Ohio trucker, others convicted of workers’ comp fraud

Marysville man kept truckin’ while collecting disability benefits

A Marysville truck driver was convicted of workers’ compensation fraud Wednesday after the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation discovered he continued to work while collecting BWC benefits for a workplace injury he suffered more than a decade ago.

Everett Ferryman, 46, pleaded guilty in a Franklin County courtroom to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. The judge ordered Ferryman to pay BWC $22,851 in restitution and serve probation for five years or until restitution was paid, whichever came first. She also imposed a suspended sentence of a year in prison.

“The law is clear — our benefits are for workers who are truly injured,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “They’re not a support system for people trying to cheat BWC and Ohio employers.”

Acting on a tip in 2017, BWC’s Special Investigations Department found Ferryman working as a truck driver while collecting BWC benefits from at least March 27, 2017, to Oct. 31, 2017. He was injured as a truck driver in May 2008 and had received temporary disability benefits from BWC periodically since then.

In other news
The owner of a Central Ohio landscaping company was ordered to pay BWC $9,888 in restitution Aug. 7 after investigators found he continued to work for his company while collecting BWC benefits for nearly a year and a half.

Robert J. McWhorter of New Albany pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud in a Franklin County courtroom. A judge sentenced McWhorter to one year of probation in lieu of six months in jail. He has paid his restitution in full.

Also in recent news, BWC’s Special Investigations Department secured five fraud-related convictions in July, bringing total convictions for calendar year 2019 to 54. Those convicted include:

James Coon of Akron, dba James Coon Construction
Coon pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter July 24 after one of his workers fell to his death in late 2017. He also pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud.

BWC found Coon lacked workers’ comp coverage when his employee died and that he repeatedly lied about his business over the years to minimize his premiums or avoid paying them altogether. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 6.

Jacci Richards of Toledo/dba Acorns to Oaks
Richards pleaded no contest but was found guilty July 16 to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of failure to comply after BWC found her operating a now-closed day care center without workers’ compensation coverage. A judge ordered her to pay $99 in court costs.

R. Gregory Lawrence of Euclid, dba Lakeshore Coffee House Inc.
BWC found Lawrence was operating Lakeshore Coffee House Inc. with lapsed BWC coverage. Lawrence pleaded guilty July 11 in Euclid Municipal Court to two counts of disorderly conduct, both minor misdemeanors. Lawrence was fined $200. Prior to the court date, Lawrence paid the balance he owed BWC and brought his policy into compliance.

Scott Laird of Cambridge
Laird pleaded guilty July 10 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found him working while collecting BWC benefits. A judge ordered Laird to pay BWC $3,113 in restitution and sentenced him to two years of probation in lieu of 90 days in jail.

Cynthia Gribble of New Philadelphia
Gribble pleaded guilty July 1 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found her working as a home health care aide while collecting BWC benefits. A judge ordered her to pay BWC $7,328 in restitution and serve six months of probation in lieu of 90 days in jail.

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

BWC reports 4 fraud-related convictions in June

Four Ohioans were convicted for workers’ compensation fraud or related charges in June, including a Springfield man who must reimburse the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) more than $13,000 after investigators found him working two jobs while collecting disability benefits.

Clark A. Howard pleaded guilty June 18 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC investigators discovered him working for a pizza shop in London, Ohio, and as a machine press operator for another business. A Franklin County judge ordered Howard to pay BWC $13,518 in restitution.

“We’re here to support injured workers as they try to get back to work and back to life, not supplement the income of able-bodied people cheating our system,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud.

The judge also sentenced Howard to 30 months of community control (probation) in lieu of a year in jail.

Other June convictions include:

Ben Patterson of Xenia, Ohio, dba C&B Landscaping
Patterson pleaded guilty June 25 to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, for operating his landscaping company without BWC coverage since 2009. Investigators worked with Patterson to reinstate coverage, but Patterson failed to establish a payment plan.

Patterson paid all outstanding BWC premiums, related fees and interest on June 24, the day before his court hearing. A Xenia Municipal Court judge fined him $150 and court costs and sentenced him to 90 days in jail, suspended upon the condition he not have a similar offense for five years.

Patricia Simon of Columbus, Ohio
Simon pleaded guilty June 18 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC determined she intentionally submitted a false statement to support her claim for workers’ compensation benefits. A Franklin County judge ordered her to pay a $250 fine and $128 to BWC for investigative costs.

Lori Hines of Waynesfield, Ohio, dba Marshall’s Hydraulic Services
Hines pleaded guilty June 7 to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found Marshall’s Hydraulic Services operating without BWC coverage since January 2017.

An Auglaize County Municipal Court judge sentenced Hines to a year of non-reporting probation, a 90-day suspended jail term and a $100 fine. Hines subsequently paid her BWC balance in full and the company’s coverage was reinstated.

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

Toledo contractor owes BWC $57K following fraud conviction

Lapsed policy, refusal to cooperate costs Holland man

By Tony Gottschlich, BWC Public Information Officer

A Toledo-area contractor owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $57,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to workers’ compensation fraud in a Toledo courtroom last month.

Eric L. Hughes, 53, of Holland, pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud May 19 after failing to renew his BWC policy despite repeated attempts by the agency to bring him into compliance. A Lucas County judge ordered Holland to pay BWC $56,959 in restitution and serve three years of community control (probation).

“Ducking his legal obligation to protect his workers clearly didn’t pay for Mr. Hughes,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “He could have resolved this issue fairly easily when we first contacted him in 2017, and we would have given him a payment plan to boot. Now he’s got a $57,000 debt and a felony record.”

According to BWC’s special investigations department, Hughes worked as a handyman and general contractor on residential and commercial buildings, usually with just one employee. But after securing a sizable contract to replace a roof on a fire-damaged building in 2017, he hired a crew of eight to 10 workers and started the job while his BWC policy was still lapsed. The company that hired Hughes later fired him after learning of the lapse.

A BWC audit in 2018 determined Hughes owed the agency nearly $57,000 in past premiums, based largely off his payroll for the time he worked on the roofing job.

In other news, a Springfield man must pay BWC $13,518 in restitution after agency investigators found him working in a machine shop and at a restaurant while collecting BWC benefits.

Clark Howard, 35, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud in a Franklin County courtroom.

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

BWC secures six convictions in May

Five Ohio workers and one business owner were convicted in May on workers’ compensation fraud and related charges.

The six convictions raise BWC’s total convictions for the 2019 calendar year to 38.

“When people cheat the BWC system, they are cheating the employers and hard-working Ohioans across this state who play by the rules,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “Congratulations to our special investigations department for stopping this fraudulent behavior.”

In order of most recent case, those convicted include:

James Nichols of Cleveland, Ohio
BWC investigators found Nichols working as a janitor and office manager while collecting BWC benefits. Nichols pleaded guilty May 13 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 150 days in jail, suspended for two years of community control. He was ordered to pay BWC $3,525 in restitution. He made a $1,000 payment at sentencing.

Deborah Rosenlieb of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Rosenlieb pleaded guilty May 9 in Summit County Common Pleas Court to workers’ compensation fraud, a fourth-degree felony, after investigators found her collecting her late father’s BWC benefits for two years. A judge ordered her to pay BWC $29,418 in restitution and serve two years of community service.

Jesse Lemaster, dba Lemaster Tree Care, Springfield, Ohio
Lemaster pleaded guilty May 8 to two counts of failure to comply, both second-degree misdemeanors, for operating his business without a valid BWC policy. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail on each charge, which was suspended pending a July 10 hearing, at which time he is to prove to the court he has valid workers’ compensation coverage.

Natasha Mitchum of Youngstown, Ohio
Mitchum pleaded guilty May 2 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found her working as a call center employee/customer service representative while receiving disability benefits. She was sentenced to 180 days in jail, suspended for three years of community control, and ordered to pay BWC $1,863 in restitution.

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

BWC secures 7 fraud convictions in April

Fraudsters ordered to pay BWC nearly $107,000 in restitution

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation secured seven fraud convictions in April, all workers who were discovered working for a living while collecting disability benefits from the agency.

Those convicted were ordered to pay BWC a combined total of $106,995 in restitution.

“We look forward to recouping those dollars so they can serve a legitimate purpose – taking care of injured workers,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud.

In order of most recent court appearance, those convicted in April include:

Clinton Walker of Cincinnati, Ohio
Walker pleaded guilty April 25 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was ordered to pay BWC $9,831 in restitution and $3,600 in investigative costs. He provided a cashier’s check to BWC at his hearing for the full amount.

Ernest Thomas of Boardman, Ohio
Thomas pleaded guilty April 23 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which was suspended for six months of probation, and ordered to pay a $500 fine and court costs. Thomas paid restitution and investigative costs totaling $10,605 to BWC at the time of his plea.

Michael D. Myers of Lebanon, Ohio
Myers pleaded guilty April 22 to a fifth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud in Franklin County after BWC found him working while collecting disability benefits in 2016 and 2017. A judge ordered Myers to pay BWC $45,338 in restitution, perform 25 hours of community service and serve one year of probation in lieu of six months in prison.

Antonio Daniels of Streetsboro, Ohio
Daniels pleaded guilty April 17 to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found him working as an industrial assembler while collecting BWC benefits. A Franklin County judge ordered Daniels to pay BWC $6,409 in restitution and serve five years of probation in lieu of 30 days in jail.

Kristin Stuhldreher of Youngstown, Ohio
Stuhldreher pleaded guilty April 16 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found her working as a restaurant manager while collecting BWC disability benefits. A judge ordered her to pay BWC $18,239 in restitution and serve five years of probation.

Amanda Treadway of Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Treadway was ordered to pay BWC $5,010 in restitution after pleading guilty April 4 to a misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud. BWC discovered Treadway working as a swimming pool attendant at a condominium complex in 2017 and also as a phlebotomist while collecting BWC disability benefits.

Antoine Harris of Cincinnati, Ohio
Harris was convicted of a fifth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud April 3 after BWC found him working as a truck driver while collecting disability benefits. Harris paid BWC $7,963 in restitution prior to his guilty plea. A judge subsequently terminated Harris’s sentence of one month of probation.

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

Ohio woman keeps BWC benefits alive after father dies

Owes BWC more than $29,000 after fraud conviction

A northeastern Ohio woman pleaded guilty May 9 to workers’ compensation fraud after investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) found her collecting her father’s benefits for more than two years after he died.

Deborah Rosenlieb of Cuyahoga Falls pleaded guilty to the fourth-degree felony in the Summit County Common Pleas Court, where a judge ordered her to pay BWC $29,418 in restitution. The judge also ordered Rosenlieb to serve two years of community service.

“Ms. Rosenlieb’s father was receiving death benefits on behalf of his late wife, but when her father died in January 2016 she didn’t let us know,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “She knew she wasn’t entitled to these benefits, but she used them for personal expenses until we learned of her scheme in April 2018.”

In other news:

A Cleveland man must pay BWC $3,525 in restitution after pleading guilty Monday to a misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found him working as a maintenance technician and office manager while collecting disability benefits.

James Nichols, 57, also must serve two years of probation and pay court costs. He paid $1,000 toward his restitution prior to entering his guilty plea in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

A Youngstown woman pleaded guilty May 2 to a misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found her working for a call center while collecting disability benefits.

A Franklin County judge ordered Natasha Mitchum, 42, to pay BWC $1,863 in restitution and serve three years of probation.

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

New online poster archive takes visitors on a safe trip through time

By Amelia Klein, BWC Librarian

Long before there was the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Ohio had the Division of Safety & Hygiene.

Nearly 100 years ago, the Ohio General Assembly gave the Industrial Commission of Ohio the green light to create an agency (commonly known as the Division of Safety & Hygiene) for the prevention of workplace accidents and diseases.

To promote safety awareness and education, the division began designing bulletin board posters for employers to display in factories and workplaces throughout Ohio. Many of these posters ended up in the archives of the BWC Library.

Recently, the BWC Library teamed up with Ohio Memory – the statewide digital library program run by the Ohio History Connection and State Library of Ohio – to create an online archive of the posters.

Getting hundreds of posters online

We worked closely with Ohio Memory to digitize nearly 500 posters from the 1920s through the early 2000s. The digital archive provides an enlightening and often entertaining glimpse at the workplace safety and health concerns of different eras.

In the 1940s, working safely meant keeping the factories running efficiently to supply and support the soldiers of World War II. An untreated cut which leads to infection and eventually death was a regular theme until the late 1970s.

It’s interesting to see how many safety hazards that affected workers of the past are still all too common today. Falls from heights continue to be one of OSHA’s most frequently cited standards, and slips, trips and falls claims remain the most common for any industry. It’s no surprise then that many posters highlight the dangers of falls.

Trends and styles revealed

The archive also shows the evolving design trends through the decades as well as the artists’ individual styles. In the 1950s, the bright red and yellow of the new Day-Glo printing caught the eye. The 1970s brought trippy, Monty Python-esque illustrations, such as a poster where a giant hand replaces a person’s head and a glove floats in the sky to promote hand protection. Even the division’s mining engineer, Jay W. Greaves, got in on the action, drawing many cartoons for the agency throughout his career, his signature mouse offering cheeky comments on the edges of a scene.

Over time, the division developed more specialized programs targeting unique hazards in specific industries, including:

Some posters have traveled throughout the U.S. and even around the globe. We have tracked down posters for the collection from Pennsylvania and California.

An early article in the division’s bulletin, The Ohio Monitor, claims it sent them as far away as India. It’s possible many posters may still be up in Ohio businesses today since many of the themes and graphics still resonate with workers.

As we digitize and upload more of our archive to Ohio Memory, BWC’s history will be easily accessible for the public to explore. So be sure to look for future collections from the BWC Library on Ohio Memory!

Southwest Ohio man guilty of workers’ comp fraud

Lebanon man owes BWC more than $45,000 in restitution

A Lebanon man owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) more than $45,000 after pleading guilty April 22 to workers’ compensation fraud.

Michael Dwayne Myers, 49, pleaded guilty to the fifth-degree felony in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas after BWC found him working for a Lebanon fire and water damage restoration company while collecting disability benefits in 2016 and 2017.

“The State Insurance Fund is for workers who are truly injured and need benefits to survive, not for people looking to unlawfully double dip and pad their income,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud.

A judge ordered Myers to pay BWC $45,338 in restitution, perform 25 hours of community service and serve one year of probation in lieu of six months in prison.

In other news:

A Cincinnati man was ordered to pay BWC $13,432 in restitution after pleading guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud Monday.

A Franklin County judge ordered Clinton Walker to pay $9,831 in restitution for benefits he received while working for several employers from 2012 to 2015. Walker also must pay $3,600 in investigative costs. He provided a cashier’s check to BWC at his hearing for full restitution.

A Mahoning County man pleaded guilty April 23 to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC investigators found him working as a maintenance technician while collecting BWC benefits.

A county judge sentenced Ernest Thomas to six months of community control (probation) and ordered him to pay a $500 fine and court costs. Thomas paid restitution and investigative costs totaling $10,605 to BWC at the time of his plea.

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

Employer compliance supervisor is BWC’s Fraud Finder of the Year

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

An employer compliance supervisor in the Cincinnati Service Office received the 2018 Fraud Finder of the Year award Feb. 21 from BWC’s special investigations department (SID).

The supervisor received the award for alerting SID to a case in which an employer failed to report payroll and failed to respond to multiple attempts to schedule a premium audit. An investigation by the SID employer fraud team revealed the employer was operating without coverage. The referral resulted in the identification and recovery of $316,103 in savings to the state insurance fund.

“Thanks to this employee’s vigilance and timely referral, we were able to stop fraud in its tracks and save the BWC system hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “Our success in uncovering fraud protects resources needed to create safe workplaces in Ohio and to care for those who are legitimately injured on the job.”

The BWC employee, who supervises field staff members assigned to the BWC employer compliance department, said he was honored to receive the award.

“I am truly honored to be recognized for simply doing my job and trying to do my part, while seemingly small, to safeguard the State Insurance Fund,” the employee said. He offered the following advice to any BWC employee who suspects fraud: “Trust your gut.”

SID received 3,150 allegations of fraud in 2018. About a fifth of those came from BWC personnel around the state. These included claims representatives, employer representatives and others who suspected illicit behavior on the part of injured workers, employers, health care providers or others connected to the BWC system. During 2018, SID closed 381 cases referred by 169 BWC employees. The investigations resulted in 192 “founded cases” (the original allegation was proven true) and identified $3.1 million in savings to the BWC system

To show their appreciation, SID leaders conducted a thank-you tour and red-flag training from November through February, presenting Fraud Finder Award certificates to BWC employees in service offices across Ohio.

“We encourage all BWC employees and the general public to contact us immediately if they suspect fraudulent behavior in our system, even the slightest hint of it,” said Director Wernecke. “We will conduct a thorough investigation, and the sooner we get started, the better.”

To report suspected cases of workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 (then select option 0, option 4, option 1) or visit www.bwc.ohio.gov.

%d bloggers like this: