11 convicted for cheating BWC; $500K owed in restitution

COLUMBUS — An Ohio truck driver who worked for more than two years while collecting disability benefits could be ordered to pay more than $78,000 in restitution at his June 14 sentencing for workers’ compensation fraud.

Walter Lee of Frazeysburg in Muskingum County recently pleaded guilty in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to the fifth-degree felony. The judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation due to the large amount of restitution — $78,321 — owed to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC).

“Our investigators discovered Mr. Lee knowingly returned to work as a truck driver while collecting disability benefits from our agency,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We’re glad he can work again, but he can’t tell us he’s disabled and collect our benefits while doing it. Those funds are for injured workers who truly need them.”

Lee was injured on the job in 2002. BWC’s investigation found him working from May 3, 2013 to Oct. 2, 2015 while collecting agency benefits.

Lee’s case was one of 11 convictions BWC recently secured along with $515,713 in restitution ordered. Other cases include:

Timothy Manuel, M.D., of Wilmington, Drug Trafficking

Manuel pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs and a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud.

Manuel, who now lives in Missouri, was indicted last year after an investigation by BWC and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy found that he prescribed large amounts of medically-unnecessary oxycodone to numerous patients while working as a doctor at Hillsboro Urgent Care. He also collected $12,068 from BWC for services he did not perform.

His sentencing is scheduled for May 24 in Highland County Common Pleas Court.

Rodney Alberino of Parma Heights, Working and Receiving

Alberino was ordered to pay BWC $193,574 in restitution after pleading guilty to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fourth-degree felony. He was also ordered to serve two years of probation. BWC investigators discovered Alberino had been working a variety of jobs for nearly seven years while collecting disability benefits.

Randall Abel of North Canton, Working and Receiving

Abel pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge after BWC found him working as a self-employed automotive repairman while collecting disability benefits. Abel paid $6,475 in restitution to his former employer and was sentenced in the Stark County Common Pleas Court to two years of probation.

James Harris of Cleveland, Working and Receiving

Harris pleaded guilty in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after investigators found him working for a property management company while receiving BWC benefits. He was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay BWC $10,498 in restitution.

Tina Valley of Akron, False Claim

Valley pleaded guilty in Akron Municipal Court to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after filing a false injury claim. She claimed she was injured from a slip and a fall while working at a local fast food restaurant. Surveillance video from the business showed she never actually slipped and fell.

A judge gave Valley a six-month suspended jail sentence and ordered her to perform three days of community service and pay court costs and fines totaling $527.

Thomas Cannell of Northfield, Working and Receiving

Cannell pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of theft of government property and one count of wire fraud after BWC and federal investigators discovered he had been working for decades while collecting disability income from BWC and the Social Security Administration.

Cannell was ordered to pay restitution of $684,048 ($479,288 to Social Security and $204,761 to Ohio BWC). A sentencing date has not yet been set.

Vincent Dombrow of Findlay, Working and Receiving

Dombrow pleaded guilty in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found he had returned to work while collecting BWC benefits. A judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail, which was suspended after Dombrow paid restitution of $3,941.

Kenneth Gilmore of Cleveland, False Claim

Gilmore pleaded guilty in Lorain County Common Pleas Court to multiple felony counts related to his attempts to fraudulently obtain prescription pain killers. A judge sentenced him to 30 months in jail and ordered he pay $6,075 in restitution to BWC.

Investigators found Gilmore had submitted three false claims of work injuries at Cleveland-area hospitals between December 2013 and June 2014. He admitted to BWC that he filed the claims to obtain narcotics.

Donna Steele of New Lebanon, Working and Receiving

Steele pleaded guilty in Franklin Municipal Court to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found her running a babysitting business in her home while collecting disability benefits. She paid BWC $10,611 in restitution, plus a fine of $250 and court costs.

Kalyan Ravula of Columbus, dba United Car Lot, No Coverage

Ravula pleaded guilty to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, and was fined $100 after BWC found him operating a business without workers’ compensation coverage.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.