Tumwater, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – An ex-logger who claimed to have severe leg and back pain following an injury has been charged with faking those injuries to collect nearly $300,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.
According to the Washington State Department of Lavor & Industries (L&I), James Joseph Thomasson, 52, of Kalama, has been charged with one count of felony first-degree theft after investigators found video of Thomasson dancing, walking normally and performing various physical activities.
Those videos contrast sharply to the images of him limping near a medical clinic or when he thought he was being watched.
In 2006, Thomasson was working as a logger when he was struck in the leg by a tree. That incident resulted in bruises and abrasions. A year later, he claimed he hurt his back while using a wedge to fell a tree in Shelton.
Thomasson’s medical provider told L&I that Thomasson could not return to work due to those workplace injuries. As a result, he became eligible for replacement wages. Thomasson regularly submitted forms stating he was unable to work because of the injuries, the department said.
According to the charging documents, Thomasson collected more than $249,000 in wage replacement payments between March 2016 and January 2020. Additionally, he received nearly $50,000 in vocational and medical benefits.
L&I launched an investigation into Thomasson after a 2019 tip that the man was misrepresenting his injuries and working as a beekeeper.
“Workers who fake or exaggerate the extent of their injury and receive money are cheating,” said Chris Bowe, assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards division. “When we receive tips from the public we will investigate. We greatly appreciate the public’s assistance in identifying people who are receiving money they’re not entitled to.”
The department said that an undercover investigation of Thomasson not only looked at security camera footage and social media posts, but also video recordings investigators took of him.
Investigators found Instagram clips of Thomasson dancing. Undercover video of him showed Thomasson picking up a large “picket pounder” above his head to drive steel bars into the ground at his home.
But his actions at medical offices were quite different. In March 2019, investigators recorded Thomasson walking slowly and with a limp into his medical provider’s office. In the charging papers, investigators said later that same day they recorded him walking briskly uphill, backwards, while talking on a cell phone. Later that same day, Thomasson moved a garbage can with one hand while talking on the phone with the other. When he spotted an investigator, he began to limp toward his house.
Investigators said Thomasson told his medical provider in late 2019 that L&I investigators were watching him.
In January 2020, an investigator showed the surveillance videos to Thomasson’s health care provider, an advanced registered nurse practitioner. The provider determined from the video Thomasson was intentionally misrepresenting his condition and had been able to work back in March 2016, officials said. The provider said Thomasson had “engaged in well-executed intentional underperformance.”
Thomasson was charged with one count of felony first-degree theft and is being arraigned this week in Thurston County Superior Court. If found guilty, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, plus restitution.