A 48-year-old laborer and farm worker has been ordered to repay the state $114,000 in benefits and penalties he fraudulently collected while working at various jobs in Central Washington.
A fraud investigation conducted by the state''s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) found that over a period of six years, Francisco Soriano-Arias worked under the alias of Juan Martinez while collecting benefits for an injury he sustained in 1980. The L&I fraud order includes a 50 percent penalty on the benefits he collected between 1994 and 2000.
Soriano-Arias was using the name Juan Rameriz when he was working for a potato processing plant in Pasco on Aug. 28, 1980. He was cleaning a potato machine when his right hand got caught in the machinery. Three surgeries followed, including one in 1989 to reconstruct his hand.
L&I attempted to close the claim over the years, but each time Soriano-Arias and his attorney appealed and won. Attempts at vocational rehabilitation failed.
L&I launched its investigation after receiving an anonymous letter alleging Soriano-Arias had been working under an alias and using another Social Security number. The investigation found that while claiming he was disabled and collecting benefits, Soriano-Arias worked at a variety of full-time jobs.
The investigation of Soriano-Arias is part of a stepped-up fraud investigation effort at all levels by L&I. Over the past 12 months, the agency has issued dozens of fraud orders against workers who were illegally collecting time-loss benefits. Some of the orders have been to collect payments and penalties as high as $425,000.
With the support of county prosecutors, L&I pursued providers who defraud taxpayers and the agency. In one case, the owner of a hearing aid company went to jail for improperly billing L&I.
The agency also has stepped up its audits of unregistered employers who don''t report hours and aren''t contributing their fair share to the workers'' compensation fund. In the most recent two-year period, ending Feb. 28, 2002, L&I conducted 1,364 audits and assessed more than $5.6 million in premiums.
The Department of Labor and Industries manages the state''s workers'' compensation system. It provides coverage for 163,000 employers and more than 1.9 million workers.
by Sandy Smith ([email protected])