Old Crow Bar on Jackson Lane in Middletown. RICK McCRABB / STAFF

Middletown bar owners convicted for not paying workers’ comp premiums

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation’s Employer Fraud Team received an allegation from the BWC Employer Compliance Department detailing their attempts to work with the employer, Old Crow Bar, 1217 Jackson Lane, to establish coverage with a BWC policy in order to become compliant with state law.

Ohio law requires employers with one or more employees to obtain workers’ compensation coverage. Noncompliant employers are responsible dollar for dollar for claim costs incurred during a non-covered period.

BWC officials said because the employer failed to comply with the law and the case was referred to the fraud team.

EFT agents interviewed the three owners — John House, 53, Chris Kraft, 47, both of Middletown, and Lynn Howard, 65, of Franklin — and provided them with instructions on how to open a BWC policy. They did not follow through and continued to operate the business in violation of state law, officials said.

The owners were referred in March 2018 to the Middletown Municipal Court and were each charged with one count of Workers Compensation Fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor.

After charges were filed, the owners obtained a BWC Policy for their business.

After the premiums and penalties due were paid in full, the Middletown prosecutor offered all three defendants a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

At separate hearings in December, all three pleaded guilty and were convicted. House received a suspended 10-day jail term, a $200 fine and $90 in court costs. Kraft and Howard were both sentenced to one day in jail that was suspended, a $100 fine and $90 court costs.

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The Old Crow Bar was also the scene of an incident Feb. 17, 2018 where a man was punched and later died.

John W. Fugate, 46, a musician who booked bands at the Old Crow Bar, allegedly was punched while he was standing on stage around 1 a.m. Saturday, police said. Fugate fell backward off the stage and hit his head on the concrete floor, police said. He was unconscious when police arrived. Fugate was transported to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, where he died that morning, police said.

“Our case had nothing to do with the fatality at Old Crow that year, but if the volunteer killed there had been an employee of the bar, the owners would have been responsible for the claim that followed,” said BWC spokesman Tony Gottschlich. “That’s why workers’ comp insurance is so important.”