A Washington Department of Labor & Industries’ (L&I) investigation has found that restaurant owner Wanitta Racicot, 69, was cooking, busing tables and performing other duties at a restaurant that she co-owns while claiming for 8 years that a work-related injury had caused permanent damage and she could not work.
The Attorney General’s Office recently charged Racicot, of Spokane Valley, with one count of first-degree theft in Spokane County Superior Court. Racicot is scheduled to enter her plea to the charge on Sept. 4. First-degree theft carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison plus a $20,000 fine and costs.
According to court documents, Racicot filed for workers’ compensation with L&I in 2001, claiming she injured both of her arms while working at a restaurant. After opening her claim, she regularly signed official documents stating she was not employed and was unable to work due to her injury. The attorney general alleges Racicot fraudulently received $249,267 in “time-loss” benefits for replacement of lost wages from March 2003 until August 2011.
In August 2011, L&I launched an investigation after Racicot’s case raised red flags to a department employee, who was examining whether Racicot should be referred for a pension.
During the investigation, Racicot told an investigator that her hands remained so damaged that she could not button shirts or put on earrings, court documents said. The same month, an investigator witnessed Racicot on multiple days carrying groceries, busing heavy dishes, scrubbing the bar counter and doing other tasks at her Spokane business, Broadway Bar and Grill.
In addition, Racicot’s current and former employees and business associates told the investigator that she had been working at the restaurant for more than 5 years, and one employee said she had been doing so since at least 2001.