OH BWC Investigations Result in 12 Workers’ Comp Fraud Convictions in June


Columbus, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) - Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer today announced that 12 individuals were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, charges related to defrauding Ohio's workers' compensation system in June 2014. These court actions are the result of investigations conducted by BWC's Special Investigations Department (SID), which works to deter, detect, investigate and prosecute workers' compensation fraud.

“Our investigators received more than 3,400 tips last year and take each one very seriously in order to protect the State Insurance Fund,” Buehrer said. “BWC staff is always on the lookout for the telltale signs of fraud, and welcome tips through our website, by phone and via social media.”

The following case information represents a sampling of cases that resulted in guilty pleas or convictions during June:

Brooklynn Mieczkowski (Columbus, Franklin County) pleaded guilty June 24 to one misdemeanor count of workers' compensation fraud for performing activities outside of her medical restrictions. SID received an allegation that Mieczkowski was involved in physical activity outside of her medical restrictions, and was possibly working, while receiving workers' compensation benefits. Investigators conducted surveillance, and observed Mieczkowski performing activities contrary to her medical restrictions. Additionally, Mieczkowski was a student at a local culinary school and she attended classes while receiving BWC benefits. Mieczkowski participated in meal preparation training, which involved standing for up to three hours at a time, and did not appear to have an injury while attending classes. However, she used a cane each time she attended a hearing at the Ohio Industrial Commission and at her doctor's office. After viewing the surveillance video, Mieczkowski's physician determined she had inaccurately reported her symptoms and the extent of her injuries, and dismissed her from his practice. Mieczkowski was ordered to pay $6,252 in restitution and $4,000 in investigative costs.

Maria Meszaros (Cleveland, Cuyahoga County) pleaded guilty June 5 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to workers' compensation fraud for working while receiving benefits.BWC received an allegation that Meszaros was the owner of the Tequila Sunrise in Garfield Heights, and was working there while receiving temporary total disability benefits. Through undercover operations and interviews, SID confirmed Meszaros returned to employment as a cook for her business while receiving those benefits. The judge sentenced her to what he termed “pay or stay.” That means he ordered Meszaros to repay $2,000 in restitution to BWC, as well as court costs by March 31, 2015, or she will serve 180 days in jail. The sentence will be suspended if she pays before that date.

Naif Said (Columbus, Franklin County) pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of workers' compensation fraud June 5 for working while receiving benefits.SID received an internal allegation stating a cross match with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services revealed Said had received wages during the same period he received temporary total benefits from the BWC.Said's employment records from Covenant Home Health Care confirmed he worked as a home health care aide while concurrently receiving benefits.Said was sentenced to six months of incarceration, which was suspended for one year of community control. Conditions are to pay restitution to BWC in the amount of $6,493.72, maintain employment and obtain no new convictions.

Russell Whitman (Mentor, Lake County) pleaded guilty June 12 to one felony count of workers' compensation fraud for falsifying documents. SID began investigating Whitman, and his wife, Regina Whitman, after receiving an allegation. Both worked for a family-owned business in Lake County and were suspected of embezzling a large amount of money from the business. By reviewing hours of recorded jail phone calls between the Whitmans, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) confirmed that his wife, who was the payroll manager for the business, submitted false payroll reports to the BWC on behalf of her husband. Those records allowed Whitman to collect workers' compensation benefits he was not entitled to receive. Whitman was ordered to pay $13,696.27 in restitution to BWC and was sentenced to serve six months in prison, which will run concurrently with his current five-year sentence at the Belmont Correctional Institution for the embezzlement of more than $285,000.

Charles Oberdick (St. Clairsville, Belmont County) pleaded guilty to one count of workers' compensation fraud June 17 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas for falsifying documents. Oberdick was receiving non-working wage loss, which is payable to injured workers who are unable to find suitable employment. In order to qualify, the injured worker must demonstrate a good faith effort to secure employment within physical restrictions, and is required to submit job search forms indicating an active searching for employment. SID received an internal allegation from a claims service specialist that Oberdick was not performing job searches and was submitting falsified job search forms in order to continue receiving these benefits. The investigation showed Oberdick knowingly misrepresented the majority of his job searches to BWC. Reviews of his job searches showed the majority of the employers he claimed to seek employment with did not have his resume on file. The investigation also showed Oberdick routinely listed the same business on multiple job search forms for different time periods, and listed contacts on days when the businesses were not open. As a result of the false job search forms, BWC paid benefits to Oberdick he was not entitled to receive. Judge Holbrook sentenced Oberdick to a suspended sentence of 90 days incarceration under the conditions that he pay court costs and restitution in the amount of $2,458.86.

Shannon Rager (Logan, Hocking County) pleaded guilty June 26 in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one misdemeanor count of workers' compensation fraud for working while receiving benefits. SID received a tip that Rager was working while receiving BWC benefits. Surveillance was conducted on multiple days, and several witnesses confirmed that Rager was working as a tow truck driver and mechanic. The SIU's investigation showed that Rager knowingly worked in these roles while receiving BWC benefits. Rager was sentenced to 12 months of community control. He was also ordered to pay $2,376 in restitution to the BWC.

Maynard Jackson Sr. (Fremont, Sandusky County) pleaded guilty June 18 in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one misdemeanor count of workers' compensation fraud for working while receiving benefits. SID received an allegation that he was working while collecting BWC benefits. The investigation found that he worked as a truck driver in Perrysburg while collecting more than $2,000 in non-working wage loss benefits between August and October 2008. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 6.

Kayla Fortman (Hicksville, Defiance County) pleaded guilty June 27 in the Lima Municipal Court to one misdemeanor count of falsification for filing a false claim. SIDreceived an allegation that Fortman filed a claim with the BWC indicating that she fell at work, although she posted on a social media site that she fell at a gas station. The investigation found Fortman reported to her employer and treating physician that she fell in the company parking lot, when in fact she fell while getting out of her vehicle at the gas station across the street. Fortman was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which was suspended, and two years of probation. She was ordered to pay $200 in court costs and to make restitution to BWC in the amount of $1,908.76.

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