Federal Way, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – A Washington man has been arraigned on a charge of first-degree theft after being accused of stealing over $25,000 in wage-replacement checks belonging to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). Based on an investigation by L&I, the Washington Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case.
Jose Sanchez was injured while working on a construction site in 2017. He was on the second story of a building when he fell from a ladder that was 1t6 feet above the ground, resulting in a broken wrist and collarbone, broken ribs, and a collapsed lune. L&I approved his claim and started paying him medical and indemnity benefits.
This past March, L&I launched an investigation after his employer during the time of the accident reported that Sanchez had returned to work for another company, while also receiving workers’ compensation payments.
Court documents show that on 3/7/19, the owner of M&S General Contractor LLC, Manuel Gonzalez — the former employer — told investigators that he knew Sanchez was still continuing to work and that he had pictures of him working on a roof, which he turned over to L&I.
According to the Certification for Determination of Probable Cause, investigators discovered that Sanchez had been working full time from at least the middle of June 2018 through March 2019 for a Lakewood contractor. He was earning around $21 an hour for basic construction work, including demolition, drywall, and roofing. The documents also show that during this same period Sanchez had, in fact, declared on official L&I forms that he was unable to work at all, which lead his medical providers to believe that he was not working.
Orders from his medical providers said Sanchez should never perform work from, or climb a ladder. In addition, he was restricted from bending, stooping, squatting, kneeling, or any occasional twisting and climbing stairs. They also told him to limit his wrist (flexion & extension). He had never been released to go back to work.
But investigators saw Sanchez working on the roof at an apartment building in Tacoma over a three-day period last March. “On 03/20/2019, between 9 a.m. and 11:20 a.m., L&I Supervisor Ross Stuth and I conducted an activity check at the Tacoma, Wash., job site,” stated Investigator Heidi Kilpatrick. “Upon our arrival, I located Sanchez on the roof, and I immediately started recording. Sanchez was harnessed, standing on top of the apartment unit’s roof and working around the chimney flue. Sanchez was using a hand drill and other equipment while he worked on the roof. I recorded video of Sanchez coming down the ladder. Sanchez went inside one of the units. After 15 minutes, he came out, got into a green truck, and drove away.”
Sanchez was interviewed by investigators the next month and did admit to working while receiving worker’s compensation benefits, saying he needed the money to support his parents and make payments on his car.
WorkersCompensation.com reached out a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries who told us when it comes to the punishment for Sanchez for committing worker’s compensation fraud “It will be up to the courts to determine a punishment, if he is found guilty or pleads guilty. The maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment and/or a $20,000 fine plus restitution, costs and assessments.”
In a press release, Chris Bowe, assistant director of Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards noted: “Our agency’s goal is to help workers heal and return to work, however, when they do return to work they must be truthful and report that to us — especially if they are receiving wage-replacement benefits.”