3 years ago
May 10, 2011
By Selena Davis, guest contributor
Before her contractor started work on Tina Cox’s project, he asked for half of the money up front – that alone should have been a red flag.
“I wrote him a check because he said work would start the following Monday,” said Tina, a Toutle foster mom of five.
Professional contractors say they typically collect funds as work is completed. The first step in making sure you are dealing with a professional is checking www.Lni.wa.gov to confirm the person you hire is registered, bonded and insured.
In Tina’s case, the contractor had already done some small work around her river-bank property and gained her trust.
The check was cashed but the contractor did not start work on Monday. In fact, nobody showed up at Tina’s house for two weeks. When she called, she was always promised work would start the next day or given an excuse.
“I can’t tell you how much heartache this project has caused,” she said.
Tina dreamed of constructing a pole barn that would double as a dog kennel and a training center. She wanted to make the facility available for foster children to work with her specially-trained german shepherds.
“The dogs are so good for children,” Tina said.
Tina found her contractor in a phonebook advertisement. In the ad, the contractor claimed to be bonded and insured. Tina thought she was being careful.
“I got multiple bids,” she said. “He wasn’t the highest. He wasn’t the lowest. He was in the middle. It seemed a fair price for the job; and I trusted it would get done. ”
But no homeowner should go just with trust. Tina was unaware that L&I is Washington State’s authority in contractor registration. She checked with the city to ensure he had a business license, but a business license alone does not mean the contractor has insurance and a bond in case something goes wrong with a project.
At the start of her project, Tina agreed to pay the contractor $12,000 to pour the foundation concrete and assemble the pole barn.
What was supposed to be a two-week job turned into a multi-month nightmare. The contractor himself did not appear on the job site again, instead sending unknown “associates” to do small jobs like removing stumps and area prep work.
Tina found the pace and quality of work not up to par. Materials went missing from the job site, leaving Tina to repurchase many supplies. The foundation concrete was not poured properly, and Tina now has multiple drainage issues. She says she was even verbally abused when she questioned the contractor about his work.
Frustrated, city authorities advised Tina to file a complaint with the Department of Labor & Industries.
“Unfortunately, we usually see angry homeowners when they are mid-project and things aren’t going how they expected,” said L&I’s Carl Hammersburg, Fraud Prevention & Compliance Manager. “If consumers did more research on their prospective contractor before writing them a check, they can often save themselves a lot of headaches.”
Tina was surprised to discover a simple L&I contractor look-up search showed her contractor was working with a suspended registration, and he had multiple liens against him from other dissatisfied customers. His bond and insurance had been canceled, making it harder for her to collect for her damages.
This kind of information is available to any homeowner considering hiring a contractor. It is good information to know up front, and it can be a helpful indicator of whether you can expect a job well done.
Tina’s barn was eventually finished, by other contractors she had to pay again. It has multiple issues, including poor drainage, uneven concrete floors, and it leaks. She says it would never get approval to be the dog kennel she dreamed it would be.
“I cry when I think about what this project was supposed to have been,” Tina said.
3 years ago
May 17, 2011
KIRO-TV did a great story last week about the importance of checking to see that your contractor really is registered, bonded, and insured.
In this case, consumers paid the contractor half the job estimate up front. Only when the contractor failed to show up did they check out the L&I website for her registration status, discovering the contractor not only was not properly registered but had multiple unsettled judgments against her.
Don’t let this happen to you—check out your contractor before you hire them, and pay as work is completed. Follow our recommended guidelines at HiringAContractor.lni.wa.gov.
3 years ago
May 20, 2011
They follow the sun, migrating around the state during warm temperatures and offering you a GREAT DEAL! on your driveway paving or asphalt sealing job.
Don’t fall for it folks. As we’ve told you before, these are con-artists, working illegally in Washington, and trying to sell you a job that isn’t up to par.
We issued a press release yesterday that compliance inspectors in the field believe a couple of these outfits are operating out of the Tri-Cities area. The Tri-City Herald also ran a short article about it.
They may be in the Tri-Cities area now, but they won’t stay there. These guys get away with doing shoddy work by keeping on the move.
Don’t be pressured into a driveway that won’t meet your expectations. Make sure any contractor hired to work on your home is registered with L&I. Check them out before you write them a check.
3 years ago
June 1, 2011
Updating a post I made a few months back, this Seattle Times piece details how Federal officials safeguarding the nation’s health-care safety net have upped the ante with respect to fraud. Prosecutors now target individual executives, not only with a ban on doing business with government programs, but also for individual criminal charges punishable by jail time.
3 years ago
June 22, 2011
I wanted to note a couple of recent successes from other states in the battle against workers comp fraud:
- an employer conviction in Texas
- a slew of claimant convictions in Ohio
- a major health-care provider indictment in California
My advice, don’t do the crime if you don’t want to do time!
If you suspect workers’ comp fraud, make a report to L&I.
3 years ago
July 21, 2011
Another headline caught my attention on a story I mentioned a few weeks back:
The two physicians stand accused, along with two co-defendants, of operating a massive overbilling scheme in Orange County:
Dr. Sim Carlisle Hoffman, 59, a radiologist of Newport Beach, Calif.; Dr. Thomas Michael Heric, 74, of Malibu; Louis Umberto Santillan, 44, of Chino Hills; and Beverly Jane Mitchell, 60, of Westlake Village were charged in the 181-page indictment.
Hoffman and his three co-defendants are accused of operating several medical facilities, owned by Hoffman, as a “medical mill” for the sole purpose of insurance overbilling without providing any legitimate treatment to his patients, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
I find it a bitter pill that a small minority of health-care providers, the very people we trust to take care of us when we are most vulnerable, bilk the public for millions.
The potential scope of provider fraud recently led Washington’s Legislature to dedicate resources for L&I to better identify billing abuses by our health-care ‘partners’.
In the last 3 years, L&I detected over $14.5 million in questionable billings. We expect to identify millions more this year, thanks to the added resources.
There are a number of red flags that could be indicators of provider fraud, such as being prescribed a high volume of prescription drugs unrelated to your injury. If you suspect provider fraud, please report it online or by calling 1-888-811-5974.
3 years ago
August 3, 2011
I read in the paper yesterday about Scott Akridge, a Kennewick chiropractor facing charges of misconduct for false billing insurance companies. And it doesn’t surprise me, because Akridge is a chiropractor we have a lengthy history with.
In 2002, we pressed charges on Akridge for false billing practices, and he pled guilty to using his deceased father’s provider number to bill L&I for services not rendered. Akridge was ordered to pay $15,914 in restitution.
Why was he using his deceased father’s provider number to bill L&I? Because Akridge had surrendered his L&I provider number in 1995 after an investigation found he was billing L&I for unnecessary services.
You would think Akridge would have learned that false billing is a crime, but allegedly, Akridge is still continuing his abusive billing practices. The article in yesterday’s Tri-City Herald says he has been accused of billing 12 patients’ insurance companies for multiple treatments not rendered.
This is a perfect example of abusive provider billing practices, and something the Fraud Prevention and Compliance Program is all too familiar with.
Thanks to new legislation passed this session, we now have a full-time employee dedicated to identifying suspicious billing practices, weeding out the few bad apples from the good providers. I expect to see good returns from our stepped-up efforts in provider fraud this biennium, and I will report our results to you right here.
In the meantime, if you suspect a provider of L&I fraud, please report it.
3 years ago
August 5, 2011
You suspect an employer is not reporting workers at a job site down the street. Or you lost a bid to another contractor who does not declare his workers. What should you do?
Tell L&I. No matter how little information you might have, we want to hear from you. We depend on the public to be our eyes and ears for fraudulent activity, and we try to make it easy to report fraud through our toll-free hotline and online reporting forms.
We can compare what you tell us with what the suspect employer reports. That may be all we need to move forward with an audit or investigation.
For example, maybe you tip us off to an employer with 10 employees when they are only reporting 5. Or perhaps you know an employer doing roofing work, but they are telling us they only install drywall, which is less hazardous, and has a lower premium rate. These timely tips are all we need from you in order to start research on a suspect business.
That said, the more information you share with us, the better our chance to target a dishonest employer with an audit.
With the increased attention we’re putting on the construction industry, I want to use it as an example of information that will help us determine if there is a problem. If you can observe the job site, take a second look at it and note a few things. Specifically, try to get the who, what, when, where, and how:
- Who is the employer?
- What type of job are they doing?
- When are they working?
- Where is the job site?
- How many workers are on site? How long have they been there, and how long are they expected to be working?
Quickly collect as much information as you can. If possible, snap a photo of the job site with your cell phone. Try to get the license plate of the truck, an indication of the number of workers on the site, and when the work at the job site is expected to wrap up.
We cross-reference all the information you provide us with our quarterly reports and information reported to other state agencies, looking for inconsistencies.
I want to reiterate that you don’t need to have all of this information to make a referral. Even if you have just a part of the information, we want to hear about it. But if you can easily find out a few details or provide us with more information, it goes a long way to ensure that we can accurately determine if there is a problem, and get one of our auditors on the case.
Starting this summer, L&I has dedicated more compliance inspectors to visiting construction job sites around the state. With your information, we will make every effort to get our inspectors to a suspicious job site before work is finished.
You can make tips anonymously, but I have to say those leads tend to be the most difficult for us to take action on. Tips can be submitted on someone else’s behalf, so consider finding a go-between if you’re not comfortable leaving us your contact information. If you’re part of a union or a business association, your organization can submit the tip for you. Or you can always leave us an anonymous e-mail address, so we can get follow-up information if we need it.
Even if you have only partial information, but it looks like a violation, let us know about it. You can call our fraud hotline at 1-888-811-5974 or submit your referral online. We investigate every lead you give us.
3 years ago
August 12, 2011
Another alleged crooked chiropractor to report … this one made an appearance in a Thurston County courtroom August 9, 2011, accused of billing L&I for patients he couldn’t possibly have provided service to, because they were locked-up at the time.
L&I investigators became suspicious of Dr. Alexander Styles of Lynnwood while investigating an injured worker. The worker made a claim for a period of time he was behind bars. Investigators noticed that Dr. Styles had submitted billings for this claimant during the period of incarceration, so an investigation was started on Dr. Styles.
We found that Dr. Styles had billed L&I eight times for services he allegedly could not have rendered, because at the time in question these patients were registered guests of the Department of Corrections, or one of its local affiliates.
When questioned, Dr. Styles said his employees had mistakenly created the chart notes related to the questionable billings. Unfortunately for the doctor, he had also neglected to report these employees to L&I for their workers’ compensation coverage.
While the total loss to the Department is just under $3,000, we went forward with criminal charges because of the egregious nature of billing for incarcerated individuals, falsifying chart notes to substantiate the fraudulent billing, and failure to have legally required worker’s comp insurance for his employees.
Dr. Styles faces charges including two counts of theft and eight counts of making false statements. He is scheduled for trial this October (Click to review the Certification of Probable Cause and Charging Documents). I’ll keep you posted on the outcome of this case.
3 years ago
August 18, 2011
By Chris Bowe, guest contributor
Late payment of taxes is an issue faced every now and again by employers. In most cases, these folks try hard to correct the issue, working with various state agencies to repay past-due debts.
Here at L&I, we do everything we can to work with employers who fall behind in their payments, trying to keep them in business. In response to the downturn in the economy, we launched the Employer Assistance Program, which puts good employers facing hard times on a reasonable payment plan – without penalties.
We are also trying an innovative approach that joins with the Employment Security Department and the Department of Revenue to work out reasonable payment plans when balances are owed to all three taxing agencies. By keeping payments reasonable and not letting penalties add up, we hope to keep more businesses open in these tough times.
But when an employer continues to avoid payment to taxing agencies, they tip the competitive scales, forcing us to act. State agencies are working together to make sure that these firms cannot unfairly underbid jobs, taking work away from responsible companies.
One Thurston County yard-care firm, in particular, failed to work with us to settle their tax debts. In collections since 2004, the firm amassed a tax debt to L&I in excess of $30,000, despite all efforts to bring them into compliance and work out a payment plan.
On August 15, Revenue Agents from both L&I and the Department of Revenue served orders to prevent this yard-care firm from legally operating in the State of Washington, or from employing workers in the state, by revoking their license to do business.
While our goal is to keep people in business, this joint action by DOR and L&I shows how agencies are working together to weed out those who take work away from responsible business owners.
Chris Bowe is Program Manager for L&I’s Region 4, where he directs fraud prevention efforts including employer audits, claimant investigations, and collection of past-due debt.
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