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Jan. 17, 2001

State investigation leads to organized crime charges

TUMWATER - An investigation by the Department of Labor & Industries led to criminal charges today against the owner and four employees of a hearing-aid company in Pierce County.

Shahn Aaron Divorne, the owner of Ear-Tec Hearing Aid Specialist of Puyallup, was charged with leading organized crime, 15 counts of theft in the first degree, and conspiracy to commit theft in the first degree - all are felonies.

The Pierce County Prosecutor's Office also charged four Ear-Tec employees with multiple counts of theft in the first degree and with the crime of conspiracy to commit theft in the first degree.

Ear-Tec is headquartered in Puyallup. It also has locations in Kent, Aberdeen, Centralia, Spokane and Kennewick.

"I'm pleased the Pierce County Prosecutor is bringing to justice the individuals who've been charged with crimes against the workers and employers of Washington," said Gary Moore, the agency's director. "We believe, they've not only cheated the state, they've broken the trust of workers who suffered a workplace injury and have relied on them for their care."

Triggered by complaints from former Ear-Tec employees, Labor & Industries' Provider Fraud Unit began investigating Ear-Tec in May 1999. The investigation showed the firm was needlessly replacing and repairing hearing aids for injured workers and billing the department.

The department issued a repayment order of $860,262 against Ear-Tec last August for fraudulently billing the state for services provided to injured workers. The order includes more than $200,490 for overpayments, plus penalties and interest.

The company has appealed that order to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.

"Medical providers defrauding the system are stealing from employers and workers who pay into it," Moore said. "We are committed to identifying fraudulent practices among providers."

Labor & Industries administers the state's workers' compensation system. L&I provides benefits and pays medical bills when workers are hurt or become ill on the job. The agency provides coverage for about 163,000 employers and 1.9 million workers.

The Pierce County Prosecutor named Divorne's co-defendants as Ronnie L. Wilson, Michelle Sloan, Michael J. Knox and Teressa L. Carpenter.

Ear-Tec's authorization to treat injured workers is revoked, pending an appeal to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.

Anyone who suspects fraudulent activity may report it anonymously to L&I by calling 1-800-547-8367 or online at fraud.lni.wa.gov.

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