Category Archives: Wage Theft

Wage Theft in the U.S. Senate

Last year, the Department of Labor (DOL) recovered nearly $247 million in back wages for more than 240,000 workers. Since 2009, the DOL has recovered nearly $1.6 billion in back wages for 1.7 million workers. These amounts are just a fraction of the amount owed to workers because of wage theft (employers not paying workers the amount they have legally and rightfully earned), according to Catherine Rampell, an opinion columnist at The Washington Post.

In July, the DOL ordered a private company that had been hired to run the U.S. Senate cafeteria to pay 674 cafeteria workers $1,008,302 in back wages after the DOL discovered that the company misclassified employees, underpaid employees for the time they worked, and failed to pay required health and welfare benefits since 2010.

Congress, as a whole, has taken little to no action to combat wage theft. In March 2016, Senators Patty Murray and Sherrod Brown and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act to Congress. The bill would require employers to pay full wages owed to an employee, and would also impose civil penalties on employers for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The bill does not have a good chance of being passed into law.

If you have questions or concerns about whether you are being paid properly and for all the hours you work, contact the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division at 1-866-487-9243. If you work in North Carolina, you can also contact the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau at 1-800-625-2267.

Employer Fraud in Workers’ Compensation

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Legislatures around the country (including ours in Wisconsin) seem to be preoccupied with employee fraud in workers’ compensation, despite overwhelming evidence that employee fraud is virtually nonexistent. 

Employer fraud, however, continues to plague the industry.  Over the last decade, my friend and colleague Len Jernigan has published a Top 10 Workers’ Comp Fraud Claims.  The list from 2015 can be found at this link.

None of the Top Ten includes only an injured worker.  The top six of the Top Ten stem from California claims.  Others are from New York, Washington, Utah, and Massachusetts. 

This year’s dollar amounts were particularly substantial, with nearly $850 million in total frauds, the largest being a $580 million kickback scheme out of California.  The California kickback scheme involved surgeons and the owner of a hospital.  The other California claims included FedEx mislabeling their drivers as Independent Contractors in order to avoid insurance, and the owners of a translation service fraudulently billing the workers’ compensation system.  Additional mislabeling involved California truck drivers from Pacer Cartage, which owed over $2 million to seven truckers, due to unlawful payroll deductions and misclassifications as Independent Contractors.

The single case involving a worker is a professional football player from the New York Giants who colluded with a claims adjuster, providing fictitious invoices and statements for more than $1.5 million.  The New York, Washington, and Utah claims also involved misclassification in which no workers’ compensation insurance was paid for actual employees.

Another popular theme is the under-reporting of earners in order to be granted lower insurance premiums.  That scheme was uncovered in Massachusetts, avoiding more than a half million dollars in insurance premiums.

The workers’ compensation insurance industry has done a marvelous job in diverting attention from the real culprits (employers, medical providers, and insurers) to the very rare, but sometimes spectacular claims involving employee fraud.  (A worker claiming permanent and total disability climbing around on rocks is far sexier than a financial officer mischaracterizing his employees in a closed office.)

2015 Top Ten Workers’ Compensation Fraud Cases

Number Value
Non-Employee Fraud Cases 9 $ 848,000,000
Employee Fraud Cases 1 $ 1,500,000
Total $ 849,500,000

The top six of our top ten fraud cases of 2015 are from California, a perennial offender. The other four cases are from New York, Washington, Utah, and Massachusetts. As we continue to discover each year, non-employee fraud cases dominated the list. This year’s dollar amounts were particularly large, with nearly $850 million in total frauds. The largest fraud was a $580 million kickback scheme out of southern California. Authorities have begun to enforce the law against companies who have misclassified their workers and we expect to see a continued increase in these enforcement actions, both against our traditional offenders and against some of the sharing economy companies who are now the subject of multiple lawsuits.

1. (California) Surgeons and Owner of Hospital Charged In $580M Kickback Scheme (11/26/15)

(Credit: MoneyTimes) The kickbacks involving millions of dollars are increasing the insurance costs for patients.Such practice corrupts the relationship between doctor and patient, thus polluting medical profession.

(Credit: MoneyTimes) Kickbacks involving millions of dollars are increasing insurance costs for patients.

Five people have been criminally charged for their involvement in a medical kickback scheme that defrauded the California workers’ compensation system and insurance companies of $580 million over eight years. Two of the five charged were surgeons and one was a former owner of Pacific Hospital. The scheme benefited doctors and chiropractors who referred their patients to two Southern California hospitals for thousands of operations.

 

2. (California) FedEx Settles Misclassification Case For $228 Million (6/16/15)2. fedex
FedEx has agreed to pay $228 million to resolve claims by 2,300 FedEx Ground pickup and delivery drivers in California. FedEx was labeling drivers as independent contractors in order to avoid the costs of trucks, branded uniforms, scanners, fuel, maintenance of the trucks, insurance and much more. Drivers were also not paid for missed meals, rest periods, or overtime compensation.

 

3. (California) Spanish Translators Caught in $24 Million Workers’ Compensation Fraud Case (12/17/15)Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.21.25 AM
The owners of G&G Translation services and over 200 of their employees fraudulently billed $24.6 million in workers’ compensation cases for services never rendered.  For example, one bill was for $422,000 for translation services by a translator who was actually in prison at the time. G&G obtained a list of patients who needed translation services at medical facilities and used those names to submit bills to large self-insured employers.

4. (California) Sewing Subcontractors Charged With Running $11 Million Dollar Workers’ Comp Insurance Fraud Scheme (4/16/15)
Caroline ChoiJae KimTwo CEOs of a sewing company were arrested on April 15, 2015 for conspiring with their CPA, Jae Kim, to underreport $78.5 million in payroll to multiple insurers. They were arrested on 18 felony counts of workers’ compensation insurance fraud totaling more than $11 million in losses.

 

5. (California) Truck Drivers Awarded More Than $2 Million Due To Misclassification By Employer (2/3/15)

Pacer Cartage drivers protesting in November (Photo from the Teamsters Union)

Pacer Cartage drivers protesting in November (Photo from the Teamsters Union)

Pacer Cartage, Inc. (one of the largest port trucking companies in the U.S.) owes $2,026,483 to seven truckers due to “unlawful payroll deductions and expenses as part of a wage theft scheme” by the company. The employees were incorrectly classified as “contract laborers” who were forced to lease their trucks by their employer, and the employer avoided paying workers’ compensation premiums. Their leases were deducted from their paychecks, and the employees were not allowed to use the trucks for any other business purpose or drive them home.

 

 

6. (California) NFL Player and Gallagher Bassett Adjuster Plead Guilty to Wire Fraud & Filing False Workers’ Comp Claims for $1.5 Million (10/1/15)

Marcus Buckley (55) played for the New York Giants from 1993 to 2000.

Marcus Buckley (55) played for the New York Giants from 1993 to 2000.

Claims Adjuster Kimberly Jones filed fraudulent workers’ compensation claims on behalf of former NFL player Marcus Buckley between 2001 and 2011. In 2006 Buckley filed a workers’ compensation claim that was settled for $300,000 in 2010. After the case was settled, Buckley and Jones filed numerous requests for reimbursement under Buckley’s closed cases providing fictitious invoices, statements and credit bills. Buckley received more than $1.5 million.

 

7. (New York) Plumbing and Heating Contractors Settle for $1.4 Million(4/21/15)
USDOL_Seal_circa_2015.svgFour Long Island City plumbing and heating contractors misclassified and underpaid a total of 300 employees. At least 25 employees were misclassified as independent contractors, several hundred were not paid overtime, and the companies’ recordkeeping did not meet the Fair Labor Standards Act requirements. The companies settled out of court when the Wage and Hour Division’s New York City District Office investigated and litigation began for a total of $710,000 in back wages to cover September 2010-April 2014 and damages for 300 employees equaling $1.42 million dollars.

 

8. (Washington) Drywall Contractor in Walla Walla Must Pay More Than $1 Million in Workers’ Compensation Premiums and Penalties (4/17/15)
drywallShawn A. Campbell and his wife were held personally liable for over $1 million in unpaid premiums, interest and late penalties for their company. Campbell listed his employees as co-owners in order to avoid paying workers’ compensation premiums.

 

9. (Utah) Construction Company to Pay $700,000 for Misclassification Scheme (5/1/15)
CSG Workforce Partners (a.k.a. Universal Contracting, LLC and later as Arizona Tract/Arizona CLA) required their workers to classify themselves as “members/owners” which limited their legal rights and gave them no minimum wage guarantee, no time-and-a-half overtime pay, no workers’ compensation insurance and no unemployment insurance. When the employers found out that the state of Utah was investigating, they packed-up and left for Arizona. However, they were tracked down and charged $600,000 in back wages to employees as well as $100,000 for their willful violations of employment laws.

10. (Massachusetts) Roofing Business Owners Indicted for Workers’ Comp Fraud Totaling $615,000 (3/25/15)
Two business owners allegedly failed to accurately report their payroll and underreported earnings in order to be granted lower insurance premiums in three roofing companies between 2008 and 2014. They avoided paying a total of more than $615,000 in insurance premiums alone.

 

For more information, contact:
Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr.
Adjunct Professor of Workers’ Compensation Law
N.C. Central University School of Law

The Jernigan Law Firm
2626 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 330
Raleigh, North Carolina 27608
(919) 833-0299
ltj@jernlaw.com
www.jernlaw.com
Twitter: @jernlaw
Blog: www.ncworkcompjournal.com

2014 Top Ten Workers’ Compensation Fraud Cases

Number Value
Non-Employee Fraud Cases 9 $ 74,876,000.00
Employee Fraud Cases 1 $ 450,000.00
Total $ 75,326,000.00

Five of the top ten fraud cases in 2014 are from California. The other five cases are from Florida, Texas, Arizona, Washington and Georgia. As usual, non-employee fraud cases dominated the list and the dollar amounts are staggering, led by the $36 million over-billing case out of southern California. An emerging issue is the misclassification of workers, and we will likely see more of these cases in 2015 as enforcement steps up in this area.

1. (California) Medical Equipment Company Overbills $36 Million (3/17/14)

The owners of Aspen Medical Resources were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraud.

The owners of Aspen Medical Resources were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraud.

The owners of Aspen Medical Resources had all their assets seized and put into receivership by the Orange County District Attorney. They were indicted in on 49 felony counts of fraudulent overbilling of $36 million for hot-cold physical therapy machines. Although these machines retail between $250 and $500 Aspen often billed Southern California workers’ compensation claims departments thousands of dollars each time a machine was rented.

 

2. (California) 15 Medical Professionals Indicted in $25 Million Scheme – Small Child Dies (6/24/14)

Ahmed Kareem, one of 15 doctors accused of participating in a workers’ compensation scam.

Dr. Ahmed Kareem   is accused of participating in a workers’ comp scam.

Fifteen doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals in Southern California were charged in a $25 million workers’ compensation scam which was linked to the death of a baby. Prosecutors alleged insurance fraud and conspiracy in the 44 count indictment which detailed that the head of a workers’ compensation claims management firm hired pharmacists to produce a pain-relief cream and then gave kickbacks to the doctors that prescribed it and conspired to submit phony claims. A 5-month old boy ate the cream and died when his mother, who was using the prescribed cream for back and knee pain, allowed her son to suck her fingers to sooth him. The next morning he was found dead and tests showed he had ingested lethal amounts of drugs in this cream.

 

 

3. (California) Lowe’s Settled Independent Contractor Misclassification Case for $6.5 Million (7/3/14)

Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees.

Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees.

Over 4,000 “Lowe’s professionals” in California are members of a class action alleging that Lowe’s misclassified its installers as independent contractors, rather than employees, thus depriving them of a variety of employee benefits, from workers’ compensation insurance coverage to 401(k) plan participation. Lowe’s, without admitting liability, recently settled the case after mediation for a sum that could be as much as $6.5 million. The plaintiffs claimed that Lowe’s retained and exercised control over their work by requiring them to identify themselves as working for Lowe’s, wear Lowe’s hats and shirts, and attend training by Lowe’s.

 

4. (California) Paving Company Cheats System of $4 Million (6/19/14)

Sabas & Lucia Trujillo

Sabas & Lucia Trujillo face criminal charges for workers’ comp’ fraud.

Five owners (Sabas Trujilo, Lucia Trujilo, Rick Trujilo, Laura Fitzpatrick and Alex Trujilo), operators and employees of a Corona, California based paving company are facing criminal charges for alleged wage theft, premium fraud, workers’ compensation and payroll fraud. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office alleges that the individuals’ criminal actions enabled them to illegally obtain about $4 million. After launching an investigation, the state obtained search warrants for both companies, seizing computers and bank, payroll and other documents. The state conducted several wage audits on several hundred projects, which ultimately led to the filing of criminal charges.

 

5. (Florida) False Insurance Certificates Check Cashing Scheme Defrauds Insurance Company of $1 Million (11/18/14)

Arturo Santos Zuniga paid laborers cash to avoid paying workers' comp'.

Arturo Santos Zuniga paid laborers cash to avoid paying workers’ comp.

Arturo Santos Zuniga, who also went by the name David Hernandez, was busted for paying laborers in cash to avoid paying workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Zuniga paid a North Lauderdale man to create and insure a fake or “shell” company, Behar Services Incorporated, and “rented” out insurance certificates to uninsured subcontractors in South Florida. Payments to the uninsured subcontractors were made through checks to the fake company, which were then cashed at check cashing stores. Behar Services Incorporated got its insurance policy by saying it had 10 employees doing carpentry and office work with an annual payroll of $210,000. The annual premium was about $26,500. Law enforcement financial reports show that just in the months from July to October, more than $7.3 million had been cashed out at check cashing stores to Behar Services Incorporated and/or the North Lauderdale man who started the company. A $7.3 million payroll would have cost more than $1 million more than the existing policy. No estimate of lost tax revenue was given.

 

6. (Texas) Man to Pay $806,000 for Underreporting Payroll to Workers’ Comp Carrier (3/11/14)

Howard Douglas Whiddon of Travis County was ordered to pay $806,000 in restitution.

Howard Douglas Whiddon was ordered to pay $806,000.

Howard Douglas Whiddon was ordered to pay $806,000 in restitution to workers’ compensation insurer Texas Mutual Insurance Co. after pleading guilty to workers’ comp fraud-related charges. He intentionally misrepresented the payroll of a related company, thus lowering his premiums. Mr. Whiddon was sentenced by a Travis County, Texas court to 10 years of deferred adjudication and 160 hours of community service.

 

7. (Arizona) Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. Agreed to Pay $600,000 in Back Wages, Damages and Penalties to 445 Employees (5/19/14)

Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees.

Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees.

Paul Johnson Drywall Inc. classified its workers as “members/owners” instead of employees, which stripped them of workers’ compensation and other protections afforded to employees. The owner, Robert Cole Johnson agreed to take concrete steps to ensure that misclassification of its workforce does not occur again and to pay $556,000.00 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to at least 445 current and former employees. The employer also agreed to pay $44,000.00 in civil monetary penalties. Investigators found that the drywall contractor violated the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime and record-keeping provisions.

8. (Washington) Summit Drywall, Inc. Ordered to Pay $550,000 in Unpaid Wages and Damages to 384 Workers (2/20/14)

The owner of Summit Drywall, Inc. was ordered to pay damages to 384 employees.

Summit Drywall’s owner was ordered to pay damages to employees.

Thomas Kauzlarich, the owner of Summit Drywall, Inc. was ordered to pay $550,000 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to 384 current and former employees. An investigation showed that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime and record-keeping provisions from October 15, 2009 to April 15, 2013. The article did not report the amount of reduced workers’ compensation premiums paid.

 

 

9. (Georgia) Nurse Gets 5 Years in Prison for $450,000 Bogus Workers’ Comp Claims (8/26/14)

A VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison for mail fraud and fraudulent claims.

A VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison for mail fraud and mailing fraudulent claims.

Loretta Smith, a VA nurse from Glenwood, GA, will serve five years in prison and must repay $450,000.00 in federal funds by filing bogus workers’ compensation claims, pleading guilty to two counts of mail fraud in the mailing of fraudulent claims, in which she received more than $450,000.00. She agreed to forfeit the equivalent of $454,740.06 in cash, real estate and other property. She was also sentenced to three years probation after her release.

 

10. (California) Drywall Company Owners Arraigned on $420,000 in Fraud Charges (12/11/14)

The owners of a defunct drywall company, National Drywall in San Bernardino, CA, were arraigned on charges that they defrauded their workers’ compensation insurance carrier of $260,000.00 and stole $160,000.00 from their workers.

 

Honorable Mention – (Oregon) Uncooperative Hillsboro Businessman Convicted of $481,519 Tax Evasion – Only Gets 30 Days In Jail (9/30/14)

Stephen Nagy engaged in fraudulent schemes to evade payment of payroll taxes.

Stephen Nagy engaged in fraudulent schemes to evade payment of payroll taxes.

Stephen Nagy was the former president of Hillsboro-based S&S Drywall Assemblies. The IRS assessed the company $481,519 in federal employment taxes, penalties and interest between June 2009 and September 2010. Nagy met with the IRS and chose not to comply with the payment plan and engaged in a variety of interrelated fraudulent schemes to evade the payment of the delinquent payroll taxes. Nagy intimidated, manipulated, and threatened the loss of much needed jobs to gain the cooperation of his employees. Special agents of the IRS learned that Nagy had transferred all of S&S Drywall Assemblies income, contracts, receivables and assets to ASM Drywall, Inc. a shell company he created and placed in his sister’s name. The Oregon attorney general prosecuted Nagy in 2011 on allegations of criminal anti-trust and racketeering. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and five years of supervised probation.

For more information, contact:
Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr.
Adjunct Professor of Workers’ Compensation
N.C. Central University School of Law

The Jernigan Law Firm
2626 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 330
Raleigh, North Carolina 27608
(919) 833-0299
neb@jernlaw.com
www.jernlaw.com
@jernlaw
Blog: www.ncworkcompjournal.com

Increase in Wage Theft Claims

According to a recent article in The New York Times (Sept. 1, 2014), more workers are claiming wage theft by their employers. Worker advocates assert that violations of minimum wage and overtime laws, erasure of work hours and wrongful takings of employees’ tips are increasing in volume.

David Weil is the director of the federal Labor Department’s wage and hour division. Since 2010, Mr. Weil’s agency has uncovered almost $1 billion in illegally unpaid wages, with a disproportionate amount of immigrant victims. Weil believes the surge in wage theft is due to underlying changes in the national business structure. As large employers increase franchise operations as well as use of subcontractors and temp agencies, these companies deny any knowledge of wage violations.

A federal appeals court in California recently ruled that FedEx committed wage theft by labeling its drivers as independent contractors to avoid having to pay them overtime. New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has recovered $17 million in wage claims over the past three years and in Nashville last February nine Doubletree hotel housekeepers were paid $12,000 in back wages owed by the hotel’s subcontractor. Wage theft is prevalent in North Carolina as well. According to the N.C Department of Labor 2012-13 Wage and Hour Bureau Annual Report, 4,244 complaints were investigated. Out of an estimated $2.4 million due, almost 73% of unpaid wages (over $1.79 million) were recovered for 2,168 workers. To file a wage dispute claim in North Carolina, contact the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau at 919-807-2796 or 1-800-NC-LABOR.