Renton man ordered to repay $340K in one of state’s largest workers’ comp scams.
The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (DLI) announced the results of the prosecution of the injured worker on June 23rd.
The fraud case
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese ordered the Renton man to repay DLI more than $339,900. The judge also sentenced Mr. Strasbaugh to 45 days in electronic home monitoring.
Robert J. Strasbaugh, 67, who was receiving a workers’ compensation pension when he was caught, pleaded guilty to felony first-degree theft in the case. Mr. Strasbaugh was working as a delivery driver, using his wife’s name, while receiving total disability pension benefits.
Mr. Strasbaugh, who has already begun to pay back the state, fraudulently received nearly $342,000 in time loss, pension, and vocational benefits from 2012 to early 2017.
“Our investigation showed Mr. Strasbaugh was deliberately deceitful in his attempt to cheat the workers’ comp system,” said Chris Bowe, assistant director of DLI’s Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards division. “We truly appreciate the public’s help in tipping us off to cases like this.”
“Fraud is not a victimless crime. It hurts honest workers and employers who pay into the system and can cause their rates to rise.”
DLI began investigating Mr. Strasbaugh in 2017 after receiving an anonymous tip that he was working under his wife’s name, according to charging papers.
At the time, he was receiving DLI payments to replace part of his wages due to an on-the-job injury he suffered in 2003. A doctor had determined Mr. Strasbaugh could not work because of the knee injury and permanently disqualified him from returning to his job as a delivery driver.
Yet despite his official declarations to DLI that he was not working, a two-year investigation determined Mr. Strasbaugh had worked multiple delivery driver jobs around the state from May 2012 to January 2017.
Using wife’s name
Investigators determined Mr. Strasbaugh used his wife’s name and her Social Security number while working as a delivery driver for one company for about three years. The company owner said Mr. Strasbaugh’s work included loading and unloading freight.
The investigation also found he worked as a contracted driver under his own name for an apple delivery company. An auto rental business provided records showing that Mr. Strasbaugh rented delivery trucks 26 times over an 18-month period, each time signing his name and the company name.
Based largely on doctor assessments and claimant statements, Mr. Strasbaugh was found to be totally and permanently disabled in 2016. His wage-replacement payments ended, and he qualified to receive DLI pension payments for life, as long as he did not work.
DLI ended Mr. Strasbaugh’s pension in 2018 a result of the fraud investigation.
Worker Fraud Hurts Other Injured Workers
Statistically, most workers’ compensation fraud is promulgated by employers. Attempts to avoid paying premiums through mis-classification of workers, under-reporting hours worked, or labeling workers as independent contractors are common forms of employer fraud.
When an injured worker is found to have committed blatant fraud, as seems to be the case here with a man ordered to repay $340K, other injured workers are then also subject to suspicion of fraudulent activity. This leads to an undercurrent of disbelief in the administration of claims. Doctors may doubt the truthfulness of their patients. Claims Managers may suspect the worst of their claimants.
Going through the process of a workers’ compensation claim, from injury through medical treatment, return to work and claim closure, is already a difficult process. No injured worker needs the added scrutiny and, often, delays brought on by news of blatant claimant fraud.