A Bothell, Wash., landscaper who claimed he was suffering from an on-the-job injury has admitted to stealing state workers’ compensation benefits.
Jose De Jesus Bernal-Ruiz pleaded guilty to second-degree theft this week in King County Superior Court, according to the Washington Attorney General’s Office. The 39-year-old Bothell resident also agreed to repay the Department of Labor & Industries more than $71,000 in vocational and cash benefits he should not have received.
Judge Monica Benton sentenced Bernal-Ruiz to 30 days of jail, but allowed the time to be served through community service.
Bernal-Ruiz filed a workers’ comp claim in October 2007 after suffering a back injury while working for a Woodinville landscaper, according to charging papers filed by the attorney general.
L&I investigators determined he resumed landscape work about two years later in King County while continuing to collect vocational benefits and wage-replacement checks.
Acting on a referral from a police task force, L&I investigators obtained cashed checks that showed Bernal-Ruiz was getting paid for landscaping, yard work and gardening from January 2010 through March 2013, charging papers said. Investigators also interviewed several of his customers, who said sometimes he worked alone and sometimes with others.
During the investigation, Bernal-Ruiz told L&I that witnesses were mistaken, and he only went to job sites to observe others working.
L&I actively investigates and penalizes those who commit fraud in the workers’ comp program. Last year, the department recovered $9.20 for every $1 invested in fighting fraud.
Source: Washington State Department of Labor & Industries
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