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March 11, 2004

Central Washington worker pleads guilty in workers’ comp case

TUMWATER — A 25-year-old Central Washington man, Fernando Palestino, has pleaded guilty in Chelan County Superior Court to first-degree theft, second-degree perjury and first-degree identity theft after he was caught working at a variety of jobs while he was collecting workers’ compensation for a workplace injury.

Palestino was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to repay $24,000 to the state’s workers’ compensation system. Palestino pleaded guilty in exchange for the county prosecutor agreeing to not file any additional charges against him.

The case grew out of a head injury Palestino claimed he suffered in February 2001 when he slipped and fell while working at the Stevens Pass Ski Resort. The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) attempted to close the claim in May of that year. Palestino appealed, telling doctors that the injury left him depressed and unable to drive and work.

An L&I claim manager requested an investigation of Palestino after his condition failed to improve despite medical treatment. L&I fraud investigators crosschecked employment records with the Department of Employment Security and determined that Palestino was working at as many as four different jobs in Washington orchards, using three different names and Social Security numbers — none of them his. L&I turned its investigation over to the Chelan County Prosecutor, who eventually filed criminal charges against Palestino.

The $24,000 Palestino has been ordered to repay includes $18,990 in time-loss benefits and $5,045 for the cost of medical treatment. In addition, L&I is pursuing a civil case against Palestino to recover another $12,000 in penalties. Palestino currently is being held in the Chelan County Jail.

L&I has taken steps to more effectively detect and prosecute workers, employers and health-care providers who abuse the workers’ compensation insurance system. Earlier this week, the agency suspended the registration of three contractors who owe more than $600,000 in insurance premiums, penalties and interest.

L&I runs Washington’s workers’ compensation system, which provides industrial insurance for about 1.9 million workers — 70 percent of the state’s workforce.

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Radio broadcast version:

A 25-year-old man is being held in the Chelan County Jail after pleading guilty to first-degree theft, perjury and identity theft. Fernando Palestino was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to repay $24,000 to the Department of Labor & Industries after an agency investigation determined that he had fraudulently collected workers’ compensation benefits he wasn’t entitled to.

Palestino slipped and fell in February 2001 while working at the Stevens Pass Ski Resort. Claiming he was too injured to work, he collected wage-replacement benefits. Such benefits cease when an injured worker becomes employed again. However, during a time when Palestino told the department he was too injured to work, he was working at as many as four jobs in Central Washington’s orchards under aliases and false Social Security numbers. L&I fraud investigators uncovered the deception and turned its evidence over to the Chelan County prosecutor.

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For media information: Robert T. Nelson, L&I, 360-902-6043 or nelq235@LNI.wa.gov

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