Category Archives: Fraud

Wage Theft Is Illegal And Immoral

Kim Bobo

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Kim Bobo, the Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice and the author of “Wage Theft in America,” recently spoke at Duke Divinity School and then at N.C. Central University School of Law in Durham, N.C. Ms. Bobo, who was awarded the Pacem in Terris Peace Award in 2012 (other recipients are John F. Kennedy, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr.), has a simple reason for the work she does: as a person of faith, she recognizes injustice and seeks to correct it. Wage theft, which is defined as stealing from workers what they have rightfully earned, is not only illegal it is immoral. She is simply trying to get people to do something about it.

In September a $4 million settlement was announced by the Harvard Club of Boston for not paying tips to its staff.

At N.C Central law school, Bobo spoke to students about waiters not getting tips, even though the restaurant collected those tips when the bill was paid, and asked if anyone in the room had experienced that type of theft. Indeed, one student shared a story about working at an exclusive club in South Carolina where that practice was routine. After reporting the problem and getting nowhere, he finally gave up and quit. He is still bitter about it. In September, a $4 million settlement was announced by the Harvard Club of Boston for not paying tips to its staff. Small amounts can add up for the employer.

Bobo gave some action items to the audience that I wanted to share with you.  She said we need to:

  • start recognizing the seriousness of the problem;
  • start getting attention about the problem in order to fix it;
  • stay focused; and
  • if necessary, cross of the lines of our comfort zone.

For more information about Interfaith Worker Justice, go to:


Are You Misclassifying Your Workers and Committing A Fraud?

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

To avoid misclassifying your workers follow these tips:

  • Don’t make assumptions. If you are a business owner you should consult a tax professional and an attorney to ensure you are complying with IRS and labor laws when hiring staff or contractors.
  • If contracting with staffing companies or labor brokers, make sure those agencies are properly classifying its workers as employees. Companies can be held responsible for labor violations of their contractors.
  • Consider filing a SS-8 Form (Determination of Worker Status) with the IRS and ask that agency to determine whether the worker is an employee or independent contractor.
  • Be aware that contractors set their own schedules and pricing, and perform the work as they see fit. If you want control over these areas, make sure you hire an employee.
  • Check the workers’ compensation policies of any subcontractor you hire. (Look out for “ghost policies,” which aren’t designed to cover known employees.)
  • Don’t rely on excuses such as “He only works a few days a week.” “She agreed to be an independent contractor.” “They use their own tools.” “He’s done this for so long he doesn’t need my supervision.”

Thanks to McClatchy DC!


Employers Who Cheat on Workers’ Compensation Coverage

Employers who fail to cover their workers for workers’ compensation, or who mischaracterize their employees as “Independent Contractors” cheat the entire workers’ compensation system. They cheat both the workers who remain uncovered and other employers who appropriately cover their workers. 

An effective tool for combating this employer fraud has been used in North Carolina. The North Carolina Industrial Commission used computer data to collect nearly a million dollars in penalties from employers with no workers’ compensation. The penalty revenue is used in North Carolina to maintain public schools.

The Commission’s Compliance and Fraud Investigative Division staff used a new tool, the Non-Compliant Employer Targeting System (NETS) to identify employers who are required by law to maintain a valid workers’ compensation insurance policy but have failed to do so. North Carolina Industrial Commission Chairman Andrew Heath noted “Unlawful employers that fail to provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage are a drain on North Carolina’s legitimate businesses, health care providers, and taxpayers.” He noted “unethical and illegitimate business owners will find no safe harbor here in North Carolina.”

States should focus on employer fraud, rather than spinning their wheels on virtually non-existent employee fraud. Much fanfare (primarily fueled by insurance carrier advertisements) accompanied the enactment 20 years ago of a fraudulent claims reporting provision in Wisconsin’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Since 1994 the Act requires insurers to report suspected employee fraud to the Department of Workforce Development on their own initiative. After reviewing the results of the insurer’s investigation, the Department refers cases to local District Attorneys for prosecution if there is a reasonable basis to believe the case involves insurance fraud. The Department’s published multi-year study of such claims concludes that the public perception of workers’ compensation employee fraud is extremely exaggerated – less one in ten thousand injuries.

Efforts at uncovering and penalizing employer fraud should be undertaken in all states.

Roofing Company Owner Faces Felony Charge for Not Paying Workers’ Comp

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

This is a good reminder that worker’s compensation “fraud” applies to employer behavior too.

A Mason County, WA roofing contractor faces a criminal charge for allegedly failing to provide workers’ compensation insurance for his employees while they were on the job.

The Washington State Attorney General’s office has charged Peter Daniel Yeaman, 55, with unregistered contracting and doing business when his workers’ comp coverage was revoked.

The latter charge is a felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Yeaman is scheduled for arraignment in Kitsap County Superior Court today, July 23.

The case resulted from a Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) investigation into Yeaman and his company, Southgate Roofing, of Belfair.


Unfair business advantage

“When contractors skip out on workers’ comp, it’s illegal and it’s incredibly unfair to legitimate contractors who pay their fair share and get underbid by these lawbreakers,” said Annette Taylor, deputy assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. 

“Workers’ comp premiums for roofers are among the highest in building construction and the trades, based largely on the safety risks those workers face.”

State law requires employers to provide their employees with workers’ compensation insurance. The coverage provides medical care and other financial support if employees are injured on the job.

Construction contractors also must register with L&I. The department confirms they have liability insurance and a bond and that, if they employ workers, they’ve paid their workers’ comp premiums.


At least six roofing employees

L&I suspended Southgate Roofing’s contractor registration in November 2012 for failing to pay workers’ comp premiums, and later officially revoked the company’s workers’ comp coverage.

Nonetheless, according to the charges, L&I found two consumers in Silverdale who had work done by the company in May 2014 and in August 2014.

During the August job, six workers told an L&I inspector they worked for Southgate Roofing. Yeaman himself told the inspector he needed to pay a bill before he could register as a contractor, charging papers said.


Eight previous infractions

In addition, the charges say that between October 2013 and September 2014, the company bought roofing materials numerous times from a Bremerton supplier and made numerous trips to a Bremerton disposal site.

Apart from the criminal charges, L&I has cited Yeaman with six unregistered contracting and two permit-related infractions since 2013, and several safety violations in 2013. L&I currently lists him as ineligible to bid or work on public works projects. He owes the department more than $28,000 for the unpaid fines and more than $131,000 for unpaid workers’ comp premiums, penalties and interest.

Photo credit: davidwilson1949 / Foter / CC BY 

Work Comp Fraud? What Fraud?

Despite what the media portray, workers’ comp fraud is extremely rare.

Workers are not “getting rich” from worker’s compensation! Accordingly, fraudulent behavior in work comp is very rare—like the one bad apple spoiling the bunch—but often highly publicized. (Because, let’s face it, seeing a surveillance video of someone bowling or water-skiing is far more memorable than a thousand images of an injured worker struggling to get out of bed in the morning or walk a city block).

Under Wisconsin’s nationally-recognized model, a worker who suffers an on-the-job-injury receives workers’ compensation benefits without regard to fault. By virtue of the work comp system, injured workers cannot sue their employers or receive jury awards. Instead, injured workers are eligible for lower, defined benefits, like lost wages and medical expenses—again, we’re not talking about “pie in the sky” numbers that would incentivize bad behavior!

“Fraud” is minimal to non-existent

  • In the last published study, Dept. of Workforce Development (DWD) concluded that public perception of workers’ compensation fraud is exaggerated. In a six year span, the amount of prosecuted fraud was less than one in 20,000 work injuries…or 0.0001%.1

Industry insiders don’t think this is a big deal

  • Rick Parks, the President/CEO of Society Insurance: “From the view of thousands of claims over decades, fraud is minimal in Wisconsin”2 
  • Chris Reader of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce: despite the “sensational stories,” fraud is “few and far between” in the system.3

Current law already allows criminal prosecution for alleged “fraud”

  • Worker’s Compensation Division already has an existing fraud hotline for the public. Also, a carrier can report an alleged fraudulent claim to the DWD. After an investigation, DWD can refer to district attorney for prosecution of criminal insurance fraud. Thus, if there is fraudulent behavior, under current law, there can be a crime found.

Independent Medical Examinations provide protection against “fraud”

  • Insurance carriers can require an injured worker to be seen by a handpicked independent medical examiner, or IME. If questions exist about a worker’s injury, symptoms, or disability, the IME can provide an opinion—allowing a carrier to deny the worker’s claim.

“Fraud” goes both ways

  • We want fair competition in the marketplace and in business. Misclassifying employees or workplaces results in “stolen” premium dollars and an unfair business advantage. Likewise, limiting or under-reporting work injuries undermines the fairness and credibility of our efficient work comp ratings process and system.



1 Department of Workforce Development, Annual Report for Calendar Year 1999 Allegations of Worker’s Compensation Fraud (annual average of 3 prosecuted cases out of 60,000 injuries).

2 Senate and Assembly Committees on Labor, Informational Meeting, 7/31/13: WisconsinEye at 3:18:30.

3 Senate and Assembly Committees on Labor, Informational Meeting, 7/31/13: WisconsinEye at 2:13:00.

“Per Diem” Payments Latest Employer Fraud Issue in Workers’ Compensation

I have written often about the public’s perception that workers file fraudulent claims in workers’ compensation. The public perception (which ranges from one in ten to approximately one in three) is completely erroneous. The actual statistics indicate the incidence of employee fraud is as little as one-sixth of one percent, or two workers in ten thousand claims (based on the latest statistics available from the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Division).

Employer fraud, on the other hand, is rampant and grows daily into the billions of dollars. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Wage and Hour Division out of New Orleans indicated six Gulf Coast staffing agencies agreed to pay thousands of workers nearly $3.5 million in back wages after investigators found part of the workers’ wages were mislabeled as “per diem” payments as reimbursement for expenses they never incurred. The Labor Department indicated the recent investigations were part of an ongoing initiative aimed at ending an illegal and alarming trend of employers labeling part of employee wages as Per Diem payments, often to avoid overtime, payroll taxes, and other costs (such as workers’ compensation insurance premiums). The Department of Labor noted that companies break the law when they call part of a worker’s regular wages “per diem” expense reimbursement instead of wages. They do this in order to lower labor costs, avoid paying overtime, and avoid making payments toward federal and state taxes, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and Social Security payments. These kinds of employers gain an unfair advantage over their competitors, some of whom are paying these taxes appropriately.

2014 Top Ten Workers’ Compensation Fraud Cases

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

  Number Value
Non-Employee Fraud Cases 9 $ 74,876,000.00
Employee Fraud Cases 1 $ 450,000.00
Total $ 75,326,000.00

Five of the top ten fraud cases in 2014 are from California. The other five cases are from Florida, Texas, Arizona, Washington and Georgia. As usual, non-employee fraud cases dominated the list and the dollar amounts are staggering, led by the $36 million over-billing case out of southern California. An emerging issue is the misclassification of workers, and we will likely see more of these cases in 2015 as enforcement steps up in this area.

1. (California) Medical Equipment Company Overbills $36 Million (3/17/14)

The owners of Aspen Medical Resources were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraud.
The owners of Aspen Medical Resources were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraud.

The owners of Aspen Medical Resources had all their assets seized and put into receivership by the Orange County District Attorney. They were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraudulent overbilling of $36 million for hot-cold physical therapy machines. Although these machines retail between $250 and $500 Aspen often billed Southern California workers’ compensation claims departments thousands of dollars each time a machine was rented.  

2. (California) 15 Medical Professionals Indicted in $25 Million Scheme – Small Child Dies (6/24/14)

Ahmed Kareem, one of 15 doctors accused of participating in a workers’ compensation scam.
Dr. Ahmed Kareem   is accused of participating in a workers’ comp scam.

Fifteen doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals in Southern California were charged in a $25 million workers’ compensation scam which was linked to the death of a baby. Prosecutors alleged insurance fraud and conspiracy in the 44 count indictment which detailed that the head of a workers’ compensation claims management firm hired pharmacists to produce a pain-relief cream and then gave kickbacks to the doctors that prescribed it and conspired to submit phony claims. A 5-month old boy ate the cream and died when his mother, who was using the prescribed cream for back and knee pain, allowed her son to suck her fingers to sooth him. The next morning he was found dead and tests showed he had ingested lethal amounts of drugs in this cream.

3. (California) Lowe’s Settled Independent Contractor Misclassification Case for $6.5 Million (7/3/14)

Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees.
Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees.

Over 4,000 “Lowe’s professionals” in California are members of a class action alleging that Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees, thus depriving them of a variety of employee benefits, from workers’ compensation insurance coverage to 401(k) plan participation. Lowe’s, without admitting liability, recently settled the case after mediation for a sum that could be as much as $6.5 million. The plaintiffs claimed that Lowe’s retained and exercised control over their work by requiring them to identify themselves as working for Lowe’s, wear Lowe’s hats and shirts, and attend training by Lowe’s.

4. (California) Paving Company Cheats System of $4 Million (6/19/14)

Sabas & Lucia Trujillo
Sabas & Lucia Trujillo face criminal charges for workers’ comp’ fraud.

Five owners (Sabas Trujilo, Lucia Trujilo, Rick Trujilo, Laura Fitzpatrick and Alex Trujilo), operators and employees of a Corona, California based paving company are facing criminal charges for alleged wage theft, premium fraud, workers’ compensation and payroll fraud. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office alleges that the individuals’ criminal actions enabled them to illegally obtain about $4 million. After launching an investigation, the state obtained search warrants for both companies, seizing computers and bank, payroll and other documents. The state conducted several wage audits on several hundred projects, which ultimately led to the filing of criminal charges.

5. (Florida) False Insurance Certificates Check Cashing Scheme Defrauds Insurance Company of $1 Million (11/18/14)

Arturo Santos Zuniga paid laborers cash to avoid paying workers' comp'.
Arturo Santos Zuniga paid laborers cash to avoid paying workers’ comp.

Arturo Santos Zuniga, who also went by the name David Hernandez, was busted for paying laborers in cash to avoid paying workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Zuniga paid a North Lauderdale man to create and insure a fake or “shell” company, Behar Services Incorporated, and “rented” out insurance certificates to uninsured subcontractors in South Florida. Payments to the uninsured subcontractors were made through checks to the fake company, which were then cashed at check cashing stores. Behar Services Incorporated got its insurance policy by saying it had 10 employees doing carpentry and office work with an annual payroll of $210,000. The annual premium was about $26,500. Law enforcement financial reports show that just in the months from July to October, more than $7.3 million had been cashed out at check cashing stores to Behar Services Incorporated and/or the North Lauderdale man who started the company. A $7.3 million payroll would have cost more than $1 million more than the existing policy. No estimate of lost tax revenue was given.

6. (Texas) Man to Pay $806,000 for Underreporting Payroll to Workers’ Comp Carrier (3/11/14)

Howard Douglas Whiddon of Travis County was ordered to pay $806,000 in restitution.
Howard Douglas Whiddon was ordered to pay $806,000.

Howard Douglas Whiddon was ordered to pay $806,000 in restitution to workers’ compensation insurer Texas Mutual Insurance Co. after pleading guilty to workers’ comp fraud-related charges. He intentionally misrepresented the payroll of a related company, thus lowering his premiums. Mr. Whiddon was sentenced by a Travis County, Texas court to 10 years of deferred adjudication and 160 hours of community service.

7. (Arizona) Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. Agreed to Pay $600,000 in Back Wages, Damages and Penalties to 445 Employees (5/19/14)

Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees.
Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees.

Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees, which stripped them of workers’ compensation and other protections afforded to employees. The owner, Robert Cole Johnson agreed to take concrete steps to ensure that misclassification of its workforce does not occur again and to pay $556,000.00 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to at least 445 current and former employees. The employer also agreed to pay $44,000.00 in civil monetary penalties. Investigators found that the drywall contractor violated the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime and record-keeping provisions.

8. (Washington) Summit Drywall, Inc. Ordered to Pay $550,000 in Unpaid Wages and Damages to 384 Workers (2/20/14)

The owner of Summit Drywall, Inc. was ordered to pay damages to 384 employees.
Summit Drywall’s owner was ordered to pay damages to employees.

Thomas Kauzlarich, the owner of Summit Drywall, Inc. was ordered to pay $550,000 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to 384 current and former employees. An investigation showed that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime and record-keeping provisions from October 15, 2009 to April 15, 2013. The article did not report the amount of reduced workers’ compensation premiums paid.

9. (Georgia) Nurse Gets 5 Years in Prison for $450,000 Bogus Workers’ Comp Claims (8/26/14)

A VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison for mail fraud and fraudulent claims.
A VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison for mail fraud and mailing fraudulent claims.[/caption] Loretta Smith, a VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison and must repay $450,000.00 in federal funds by filing bogus workers’ compensation claims, pleading guilty to two counts of mail fraud in the mailing of fraudulent claims, in which she received more than $450,000.00. She agreed to forfeit the equivalent of $454,740.06 in cash, real estate and other property. She was also sentenced to three years probation after her release.
10. (California) Drywall Company Owners Arraigned on $420,000 in Fraud Charges (12/11/14) The owners of a defunct drywall company, National Drywall in San Bernardino, CA, were arraigned on charges that they defrauded their workers’ compensation insurance carrier of $260,000.00 and stole $160,000.00 from their workers.
Honorable Mention 

(Oregon) Uncooperative Hillsboro Businessman Convicted of $481,519 Tax Evasion – Only Gets 30 Days In Jail (9/30/14)

Stephen Nagy engaged in fraudulent schemes to evade payment of payroll taxes.
Stephen Nagy engaged in fraudulent schemes to evade payment of payroll taxes.

Stephen Nagy was the former president of Hillsboro-based S&S Drywall Assemblies. The IRS assessed the company $481,519 in federal employment taxes, penalties and interest between June 2009 and September 2010. Nagy met with the IRS and chose not to comply with the payment plan and engaged in a variety of interrelated fraudulent schemes to evade the payment of the delinquent payroll taxes. Nagy intimidated, manipulated, and threatened the loss of much needed jobs to gain the cooperation of his employees. Special agents of the IRS learned that Nagy had transferred all of S&S Drywall Assemblies income, contracts, receivables and assets to ASM Drywall, Inc. a shell company he created and placed in his sister’s name. The Oregon attorney general prosecuted Nagy in 2011 on allegations of criminal anti-trust and racketeering. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and five years of supervised probation.

For more information, contact:
Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr.
Adjunct Professor of Workers’ Compensation
N.C. Central University School of Law
The Jernigan Law Firm
2626 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 330
Raleigh, North Carolina 27608
(919) 833-0299
Twitter: @jernlaw

Voter Fraud / Worker’s Comp Fraud Same Scare Tactics

Studies indicate that employee worker’s compensation fraud is minimal

I’ve said several times in this blog that I view most news through the prism of a lawyer represented injured workers. This morning’s headline noted “Democrats Reject Fraud Tales – Say Make Voting Easier”. Republicans have focused on the voter fraud issue in an attempt to limit voting from those who they assume will vote against them (employees, poor people, people of color). Republicans have resisted efforts at mandatory early voting periods and same day registration to make it easier to cast ballots. Their argument is eerily similar to the scare tactics employed by employers and insurers in worker’s compensation fraud. 

Studies indicate voter fraud throughout the United States is virtually absent.

However, statistic belie these claims. Studies indicate voter fraud throughout the United States is virtually absent. In the same manner, employers and insurers routinely harp on the issue of employee worker’s compensation fraud (alleged malingering, etc.) and studies also indicate that employee worker’s compensation fraud is minimal at best (in Wisconsin studies suggest less than one-sixth of one percent). On the other hand, employer fraud (misreporting classifications of employees, classifying employees as Independent Contractors rather than employees) is rampant and costs the industry millions of dollars.