County aggressively attacking workers’ comp violators
May 7, 2003
Workers’ compensation fraud, a crime once relatively low on law enforcement’s priority list, now has a new enemy.
Joe Morgan, a former detective with Manteca Police Department, is a district attorney investigator whose sole responsibility is to examine workers’ compensation fraud in El Dorado County.
Morgan was hired a few months ago with grant money from the California Department of Insurance. He will be paid around $38,000 a year. He’s part of District Attorney Gary Lacy’s aggressive campaign against fraud by employers and employees.
With workers’ compensation rates increasing, there may be more of a chance that employers don’t fully protect their workers from injury or misstate the type of dangerous occupation their employees have.
The result is a lower premium that decreases costs and could allow owners to underbid or sell goods and services at a lower price, Lacy said.
Applicant fraud occurs when a worker fakes an injury to reap benefits.
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Morgan, an avid skier and hunter, has a limited background in fraud matters and even less in workers’ compensation. He’s attended two training sessions on fraud matters. Since Morgan has been on the job, a manufacturing and a service business have been reported for premium fraud.
“I have to be honest, a lot of this is on the job (training),” Morgan said. “It’s a steep (learning) curve. There are very intricate little micro-communities within insurance and within fraud.”
Hans Uthe, assistant district attorney in South Lake Tahoe, has seen workers’ compensation fraud cases in El Dorado County Superior Court. Two men associated with a roofing business failed to appear for a Feb. 28 court hearing on an uninsured employee falling from a roof, Uthe said.
Last year a tree service company was caught having workers’ compensation insurance but with one employee listed as doing less dangerous work, thus decreasing costs.
Uthe said uninsured workers can be dangerous for consumers. He gave an example that a licensed painter can be working on a house but be uninsured.
If the painter gets injured doing work, the costs could fall on the homeowner.
“That’s grossly unfair,” Uthe said. “A lot of people don’t understand that’s how the law works.”
Uthe recommended people check for the license and proof of insurance, which can be verified through the labor commission.
Morgan said he drives to South Lake Tahoe to spend days doing community outreach and educating businesses on complying. At other times he makes cold visits to businesses, follows the progression of cases and talks to chambers of commerce.
“I’m used to a heavy caseload and I have responsibility and I see workers’ compensation fraud as a major problem and I see no reason for me to be sitting at my desk,” he said.
— E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com