Renton delivery driver faces felony in one of state’s largest workers’ comp scams
OLYMPIA — A Renton delivery driver who worked for years while claiming he was permanently disabled and could not hold a job has been charged with stealing $325,000 in state disability payments.
The amount is one of the state’s largest workers’ compensation fraud cases in recent memory, according to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).
Robert J. Strasbaugh, 67, who was receiving a workers’ comp pension, pleaded not guilty this week to felony, first-degree theft in the case. His trial is set for March 9 in Thurston County Superior Court.
Strasbaugh is accused of wrongfully taking approximately $325,000 in L&I wage-replacement and pension payments between 2012 and early 2017. During that time he declared on official L&I documents and told doctors that he wasn’t working because of an on-the-job injury.
L&I administers the state workers’ compensation insurance system, which provides medical and limited wage-replacement coverage to injured workers.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case based on an L&I investigation.
“Fraud at any level has an impact on honest workers and employers who share the costs of the system,” said Chris Bowe, assistant director for Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. “Taking payments that you are not legally entitled to can impact everyone’s rates. We’re committed to doing everything we can to prevent workers’ compensation fraud.”
Strasbaugh injured his knee while working as a delivery driver in 2003. The same year, a doctor determined Strasbaugh could not work because of the injury and permanently disqualified him from returning to his delivery job. Coupled with Strasbaugh’s declarations that he wasn’t working, he began receiving L&I payments to replace part of his wages.
L&I began investigating Strasbaugh in 2017 after receiving an anonymous tip that he was working under his wife’s name, according to charging papers.
The two-year investigation uncovered a paper trail of traffic tickets, Employment Security Department records, payroll checks, trucking records and other evidence showing that he worked as a delivery driver transporting apples around the state from May 2012 to January 2017.
Using wife’s name
Investigators determined Strasbaugh used his wife’s name, Jann Strasbaugh, while working as a delivery driver for one company for about three years. Though he used her name, the owner and former employees correctly picked Robert Strasbaugh out of photo montages as the man who worked for the company, charging papers said.
In addition, the owner said Strasbaugh’s work not only included driving, but loading and unloading freight that typically weighed between 100 and 500 pounds.
The investigation also found he worked as a contracted driver under his own name for a different apple delivery company. An auto rental company provided records showing that Strasbaugh rented delivery trucks 26 times over an 18-month period, each time signing his name and the company name.
Based largely on doctor assessments and Strasbaugh’s statements, Strasbaugh was found to be “totally and permanently disabled” in 2016. His wage-replacement payments ended, and he qualified to receive L&I pension payments for life, as long as he did not work.
In September 2018, however, an investigator briefed Strasbaugh’s doctor on the fraud investigation. The doctor then responded that Strasbaugh had misrepresented his physical abilities and job status to him, charging papers said. Had he known about Strasbaugh’s jobs, he would have allowed Strasbaugh to return to work as a delivery driver in May 2012.
The department ended Strasbaugh’s pension as a result of the fraud investigation.
L&I pensions are intended for people who are permanently unable to work due to their job-related injury or illness.
Debby Abe, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-6043