Lax Record-keeping at Ohio’s Worker’s Comp Bureau Lowered Benefits

July 26, 2006

Hundreds of injured workers temporarily received less in state benefits than they deserved because of poor record-keeping at a scandal-plagued state insurance fund, according to a memo released Monday.

The disclosure was the latest twist in the scandal surrounding the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Republican Gov. Bob Taft released the four-year-old document at the request of The Associated Press three days after the Ohio Supreme Court narrowed the governor’s right to shield certain internal reports.

State Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat running for attorney general, sued for access to the memos to learn more about problems at the workers’ comp bureau. The agency is still recovering from a scandal that revealed an unorthodox $50 million investment in rare coins and a $215 million hedge fund loss.

The scandal led to Taft’s no-contest plea last year on charges of failing to report several golf outings, and it has given Democrats hope of breaking a Republican lock on state political offices.

The memo from Taft’s former business aide, Doug Moormann, says the payment problem affected permanently disabled workers who should have received more money when they hit retirement age.

The bureau reviewed 8,900 cases and found initially that as many as 1,500 workers needed to receive extra benefits because of the mistake, the memo said. Social Security benefits meant to kick in and replace other federal disability benefits once a worker retired were not immediately paid because of “poor record keeping,” the memo said.

The bureau was researching the problem and couldn’t immediately comment, spokeswoman Nancy Smeltzer said.

Moormann said he recalled the problem but couldn’t remember exactly how it was resolved. Phil Fulton, a Columbus attorney who handles injured workers’ cases, said workers were repaid once the mistake was discovered.

The reports include references to Tom Noe, the GOP fundraiser and rare coin dealer at the heart of the scandal. Noe, then a member of the Ohio Turnpike Commission, met with a transportation official in fall 2004 to resolve disagreements about a plan to reduce tolls, the reports say.

Noe is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal charges of illegally funneling $45,000 to President Bush’s re-election campaign. He faces an October trial in state court on charges of stealing $1 million from the coin investment fund.

Messages seeking comment were left Monday for Proctor and Noe’s attorney.

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