Broad Powers for Proposed Rhode Island Workers’ Comp Unit

January 20, 2010

Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri has proposed reassigning investigators to probe workers’ compensation fraud but giving them far broader powers to prevent the misuse of state government funds.

The proposal was contained in a $7.8 billion budget plan meant to close a $220 million deficit for the fiscal year ending in June.

Carcieri’s administration originally proposed eliminating a squad of investigators that targets people wanted on small-time warrants, often for owing money to the courts, and instead turning them into an employment integrity unit, tasked with preventing and detecting fraud and misuse of government funds.

A few weeks after giving lawmakers that proposal, Carcieri’s administration said that the four investigators available to be shifted from the existing warrant taskforce should instead be used to replace investigators who examine workers’ compensation claims filed by state employees.

The change in mission came as Carcieri’s administration tries to consolidate functions and avoid hiring new employees as tax revenues plummet and budget deficts grow. A shortage of investigators had forced the Department of Administration to hire private investigators to probe suspect workers’ compensation claims.

Still, Carcieri’s proposal would allow those investigators to be used to prevent or detect financial improprieties across any branch of state government. The unit would be overseen by State Police Col. Brendan Doherty and run by a State Police officer.

State Police Major Stephen Bannon said it would be staffed by members of the warrant squad who are retired police officers with the power to make arrests, obtain search warrants and carry firearms.

While the investigators would focus primarily on workers’ compensation claims, they may be used in stings, for example, to target government employees who improperly claim wages or engage in other abuses.

“Our financial crimes unit is heavily taxed with the ordinary fraud complaints that come in on a daily basis,” Bannon said. “This group will supplement our resources.”

Lawmakers in the Democratic-dominated General Assembly have not yet voted on the plan.

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