Ex-logger claiming to have severe leg and back injuries charged with stealing nearly $300K in workers’ comp scam
TUMWATER — A Cowlitz County man stands accused of faking injuries to collect nearly $300,000 in workers’ compensation benefits. James Joseph Thomasson, 52, of Kalama, is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday, May 25, in Thurston County Superior Court on one count of felony first-degree theft.
Thomasson is accused of falsely claiming that his on-the-job injuries were so severe that he couldn’t work, enabling him to receive workers’ comp benefits for almost four years.
A Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) investigation recorded and found video of Thomasson dancing, walking normally, and performing various physical activities ? but limping near a medical clinic and at times when he thought he was being watched, according to charging documents.
L&I launched the investigation in 2019 after receiving an anonymous tip that Thomasson was misrepresenting his injuries and working as a beekeeper.
“Workers who fake or exaggerate the extent of their injury and receive money are cheating,” said Chris Bowe, assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards division. “When we receive tips from the public we will investigate.
“We greatly appreciate the public’s assistance in identifying people who are receiving money they’re not entitled to.”
Tips can be reported to L&I's Fraud division (Lni.wa.gov/Fraud) or by calling 1-888-811-5974.
L&I administers the state workers’ compensation insurance system, which helps injured workers heal and return to work. The Washington State Office of the Attorney General is prosecuting the case based on the L&I investigation.
Injured in logging accidents
Thomasson was injured while working as a logger in the fall of 2006. He was struck in the leg by a tree, suffering bruises and abrasions. A year later, he claimed he hurt his back while using a wedge to fell a tree in Shelton.
His medical provider told L&I that Thomasson could not work due to the workplace injuries. As a result, he was eligible to receive payments for part of his lost wages. In addition, Thomasson regularly submitted official forms stating he was unable to work because of the injuries, according to court papers.
He collected more than $249,000 in wage replacement payments and nearly $50,000 in vocational and medical benefits from March 2016 through January 2020, the period the charges cover.
Videos of defendant briskly walking uphill, dancing
Undercover investigators watched and recorded Thomasson multiple times in 2019, and obtained security camera and social media footage of him.
They found an Instagram clip of him moving his hips side to side while dancing. An investigator watched him lift a large metal “picket pounder” ? a heavy pipe with handles welded to the sides ? above his head to drive steel bars into the ground at his home.
Limps at doctor’s office, and in front of investigators
An investigator wrote in charging papers that Thomasson often acted as though he thought he was under surveillance, especially at medical appointments.
In March 2019, for instance, investigators recorded him walking slowly with a limp into a medical clinic.
But after he left the clinic, they recorded him at a rest area walking briskly uphill, backwards, while talking on a cell phone, and later the same day at his home moving a garbage can with one hand and holding the phone in the other. But when he spotted investigators in a car, he immediately started limping toward his house.
Indeed, Thomasson told his medical provider in late 2019 that he knew an L&I investigator was watching him.
In January 2020, an investigator showed the surveillance videos to the provider, an advanced registered nurse practitioner. After evaluating the videos, the provider determined Thomasson was intentionally misrepresenting his physical capabilities and had actually been able to work back in March 2016, court papers said.
The provider concluded that Thomasson had “engaged in well-executed intentional underperformance” of his abilities.
First-degree felony theft carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, plus restitution.
Debby Abe, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-6043