A landscape employee in Bothell, Washington, who claimed he was suffering from an on-the-job injury has admitted to stealing state workers’ compensation benefits. Jose De Jesus Bernal-Ruiz recently pleaded guilty to second-degree theft in King County Superior Court.
He agreed to repay the Department of Labor and Industries more than $71,000 in vocational and cash benefits that he should not have received. According to papers filed by the Attorney General, Bernal-Ruiz filed a worker’s comp claim in October 2007, after suffering a back injury while working for a landscape company in Woodinville, Washington. Investigators determined that he had 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, investigators obtained cashed checks that showed Bernal-Ruiz was getting paid for landscape work from January 2010 to March 2013. They interviewed several of his customers, who said he sometimes worked alone and sometimes with others. During the investigation, Bernal-Ruiz claimed that the witnesses were mistaken, and that he only went to jobsites to monitor others working.
Bernal-Ruiz was sentenced to thirty days of jail; however, the judge allowed the time to be served through community service. The Department of Labor and Industries 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.