COLUMBUS – A Southern Ohio man who collected injured workers’ benefits for four years while running an automobile repair shop out of his residence must pay $132,239 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) and serve five years probation.
Manuel Perez, 59, of West Portsmouth in Scioto County, pleaded guilty Monday, Nov. 21, in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to misdemeanor counts of workers’ compensation fraud and theft. He paid $10,000 toward his restitution to BWC at his sentencing. He also was sentenced to six months in jail, which was suspended so long as he complies with the terms of his probation.
“This case took four long years to investigate and prosecute, and I’m proud our investigators pushed it forward,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “Mr. Perez’s restitution will go where those funds rightfully belong – caring for injured workers and creating safer workplaces across this state.”
BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) got a tip in November 2012 that Perez was working for his own business, M A Perez Enterprises, as a mechanic while filing an application for permanent total disability benefits from BWC. The source reported that Perez was able to crawl underneath vehicles, push and pull equipment and use wrenches to repair vehicles.
Investigators found Perez had continued to operate his mechanic’s business during a period in which he also received temporary total benefits, September 2007 to November 2011. Agents obtained bank records that provided customer names and payments and receipts from an auto parts store totaling $43,000. The customers were interviewed and identified Perez as the owner/operator of the business.
Perez’s case took years to resolve as it made its way through BWC, the Ohio Industrial Commission (IC) and the court system.
Perez was injured in December 2002 while working for a construction company and was later granted injured workers’ benefits. Roughly four months after SID began its investigation in 2012, an IC hearing officer determined Perez was overpaid and had committed fraud because he operated his automobile repair business without telling BWC. Perez denied those findings and unsuccessfully appealed his case all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.
For a BWC photo of Perez under surveillance, click here.
To report suspected cases of workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.