Caught on camera: Oyster harvester who faked injury must repay state $32K
OLYMPIA — A Shelton man who harvested and sold oysters while claiming he was too disabled to work has been sentenced to repay the state more than $32,000 and serve two months in custody.
Jose Cruz Contreras Alvarez, 40, pleaded guilty this week (Nov. 12) to one count of attempted second-degree theft. The court ordered him to repay the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) $32,628 - the amount he received over eight months to replace his wages.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge John C. Skinder also sentenced him to two years on probation and two months in jail, but allowed him to serve the jail time in electronic home monitoring or work release.
If Contreras Alvarez fails to comply with the sentence during probation, he could face up to 304 additional days of confinement.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case based on an undercover L&I investigation that filmed Contreras Alvarez loading oysters into trucks.
L&I investigated Contreras Alvarez in 2017 after getting an anonymous tip that he was working for his wife’s shellfish company.
At the time, he was receiving workers’ compensation benefits for a back injury he suffered in 2012 while working as a shellfish harvester.
During the investigation, L&I caught Contreras Alvarez on tape loading bags of oysters into commercial trucks seven times in the spring and summer of 2017.
In addition, witnesses reported that Contreras Alvarez had worked for his wife’s oyster operation since 2016, doing everything from seeding the waterfront with oyster larvae to harvesting and bagging the shellfish, charging papers said.
During that same period, from late 2016 through July 2017, Contreras Alvarez repeatedly declared on official forms that he wasn’t working due to his on-the-job injury. In a 2017 interview with the case investigator, Contreras Alvarez denied performing work for his wife’s shellfish company, saying he was too injured to work.
L&I fraud hotline
L&I administers the state workers’ compensation insurance system, which helps injured workers heal and return to work. If you suspect someone is cheating the workers’ comp system, contact L&I at Lni.wa.gov/fraud or call 1-888-811-5974.
Debby Abe, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-6043