New Lebanon couple defrauds workers’ comp system

A New Lebanon couple pleaded guilty to operating a scheme to steal workers’ compensation benefits and were ordered to repay a combined $108,000, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

Mike and Terri Watkins, a married couple, worked together to defraud the state’s injured insurance worker system, the BWC said.

Mike Watkins pleaded guilty in Franklin County Common Pleas Court last month to one count of workers’ compensation fraud and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, suspended for five years while he is on community control. He was ordered to pay $84,574 in restitution and investigative costs and made an initial $30,000 payment on the debt.

In June, Terri Watkins pleaded guilty to one count complicity to commit workers’ compensation fraud and was ordered to pay $23,427 in restitution and costs — a debt she has paid in full, according to the BWC.

“The Watkins’ took deliberate steps that were clearly designed to maximize the dollars they could receive fraudulently from BWC for his workplace injury,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer in a written statement. “That’s unfortunate and not representative of the many who truly need assistance as they recover. I’m grateful to our tipster for helping our investigators uncover their scheme.”

State authorities investigated a tip that Mike Watkins was collecting temporary total disability benefits while working at his business, Mike Watkins Sterling Homes. Investigators said the couple defrauded the system so that Mike Watkins could qualify for living maintenance wage loss benefits, which are intended for injured workers who finish rehabilitation but still experience physical restrictions and lost wages.

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