In a little-noted appearance before the Illinois House Appropriations-Public Safety Committee, the director of the Department of Corrections said millions of dollars in workers compensation payments to Menard prison guards were fraudulently obtained.
The Belleville News-Democrat reports that Tony Godinez last month told the committee that some of the guards claimed injury from turning keys.
The News-Democrat reported last year that about $10 million in taxpayer-funded settlements for carpal tunnel syndrome of the wrist and cubital tunnel syndrome of the elbow were paid to employees, mostly guards, at the Menard Correctional Center between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2010.
“I think there’s fraud,” Godinez told the committee. “I’m sorry to say that, but I’ve been working in this business a long time and was (warden) at Stateville for 12 years, some 12 very hard years, and I never saw claims like I’ve seen since I’ve been back.”
Godinez was responding to questions from Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, during an April 18 hearing. He noted there is no reason for keys at Menard, a maximum security facility, to be turned more than at minimum or medium security facilities.
Godinez has been director for about a year. He said he believes there are some “bona fide” claims made by Menard employees, “but some of those don’t match up.”
In June, the News-Democrat uncovered an expert report commissioned by the state of Illinois that showed locking and unlocking prison cells didn’t cause repetitive trauma injuries in guards. Despite the findings of the 2008 report, the state continued to grant workers’ compensation claims to guards, the paper reported.
An audit released last month by the auditor general’s office determined Illinois’ system for compensating injured state workers hands out money too readily, sometimes without medical evidence to back up a claim and occasionally paying benefits the hurt employee didn’t even seek.
The report found that state workers who claimed injury at work received $295 million on more than 26,000 claims from 2007 through 2010.
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