Ohio BWC Gets Eight Workers’ Comp Fraud Convictions In February

                               Columbus, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) - Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer today announced eight individuals were convicted of or pleaded guilty to charges related to defrauding Ohio's workers' compensation system during February. The court actions are the result of investigations conducted by BWC's special investigations department (SID). The department works to deter, detect, investigate and prosecute workers' compensation fraud.

“These recent convictions show that both workers and employers are responsible for serious violations of workers compensation laws,” said Buehrer. “Businesses operating without workers' compensation coverage are the focus of our employer fraud team, which is dedicated solely to identifying businesses that are knowingly attempting to dodge the rules designed to protect their workforce.”

A sampling of cases that resulted in a guilty plea or conviction during the month of February follows.

George Sofianos, dba Sofianos Enterprise Inc. (Cleveland, Cuyahoga County) pleaded guilty Feb. 7 to one count of failure to comply for operating his business without proper workers' compensation insurance coverage. BWC's employer fraud team initiated an investigation based on an internal referral stating that Sofianos and his father Sprios, operators of Dimitri's Restaurant, were operating without the required BWC coverage.

The investigation found the employer has had lapsed coverage since 2003. It also revealed the employer was uncooperative in submitting the necessary payroll information. In addition, They remitted a payment that BWC returned due to insufficient funds and defaulted on the payment plan. George Sofianos entered his guilty plea in exchange for charges being dropped against his father. He was sentenced to 30 days suspended incarceration and was placed on probation for 12 months. George Sofianos entered into a payment plan with the Office of the Attorney General of Ohio. He must pay $750 in court costs. If he defaults on the payment plan, he will serve the 30-day jail sentence.

Eric Watson (Brookville, Montgomery County) pleaded guilty Feb. 24 in a Franklin County courtroom to workers' compensation fraud for working while receiving benefits. SID began investigating after receiving an allegation that Watson sold newspapers at a local Kroger Store in the Dayton area while on workers' compensation. Investigators found Watson working as an independent contractor selling newspapers and subscriptions at various local grocery and retail stores while collecting temporary total disability benefits. Watson had already repaid the full $2,346.44 in restitution at the time of his guilty plea. The court also ordered him to pay a fine of $250.

Kevin Corn (Akron, Summit County) pleaded guilty Feb. 13 to theft in a Franklin County courtroom for collecting paychecks from two employers while he receiving workers' compensation benefits. SID agents began looking into Corn's activities after receiving an allegation of fraud. The investigation revealed two employers had reported earnings to Corn while he received disability benefits. Both employers provided records confirming he worked as a chef during the time n question. He was originally injured working as a chef. Agents later interviewed Corn, and he admitted to working for both companies. Corn also acknowledged he knew he was not permitted to work while concurrently receiving disability benefits. Corn initially pleaded not guilty but later pleaded guilty and was sentenced immediately to one year in prison, suspended for community control. The court ordered Corn to repay $13,699.80 in restitution and $500 in investigative costs.

Robert Shriner and Jocelyn Burke (Brimfield, Portage County) were sentenced for their roles in a scheme related to his workers' compensation claim, which stated that he was totally and permanently disabled. BWC placed Shriner on permanent total disability (PTD) due to a workplace injury and paid for the services of a home-health aide six days a week. Burke, his wife at the time, became employed for the company that provided home health-care services to Shriner. This enabled her to become her husband's home-health aide.

SID opened an investigation after receiving a tip. Agents found that Shriner appeared to be sleeping and unconscious at his doctor's appointments. In addition, Burke insisted he needed 24-hour care. However, investigators documented numerous occasions when Burke took trips out of state, leaving Shriner at home to care for him and their six children. During the periods in which she was gone, investigators observed Shriner engaged in several activities. These included driving, working in the yard and carrying his children. Both Burke and Shriner signed and submitted daily Home-Health Aide logs. This made it appear as if she was home during these periods. Additionally, Shriner claimed he couldn't drive as a result of his injury. However, the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities employed him as a self-employed transportation provider. The allowed Shriner to provide transportation services to his disabled son prior to and during the entire time he received PTD benefits.

The investigation also revealed Shriner was self-employed as home-health aide for his son through a Medicaid fraud scheme with Burke and another party, Janet Glaeser. Shriner pleaded guilty to two felony counts of workers' compensation fraud and testified against Burke. He was sentenced to five years of basic supervision probation and ordered to pay $159,716.67 in restitution. If he violates his probation, he will be sentenced to 18 months prison time on each count. Burke pleaded guilty to felony counts of workers' compensation fraud and theft and was sentenced to five years probation with 18 months prison time if she violates the terms of probation. She was also ordered to pay $338,567.10 in restitution and $30,000 for investigative costs.

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