Vancouver, Wash., husband and wife face felony charges in workers' comp scam
VANCOUVER, Wash. — A married couple working at their son’s Vancouver auto repair shop claimed to be hurt at the shop and received workers’ compensation benefits for their injuries.
Now both are charged with stealing those benefits from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).
Charges accuse Jeffrey Bart Pierson, 61, of stealing more than $116,000 in workers' comp insurance benefits over about two years. Charges also say Karen S. Pierson, 62, stole more than $64,000 in benefits over about 15 months. Both are slated for arraignment on one count each of first-degree felony theft on Tuesday, July 20, in Thurston County Superior Court.
Claimed they were too injured to work
L&I investigators recorded more than 100 video clips of the defendants working at My Dad's Automotive & Exhaust during the same time the couple regularly stated on official forms that they weren't working because of injuries they suffered on the job.
"It's astonishing how brazen some people are in their attempts to scam the system," said Chris Bowe, assistant director of L&I's Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards division. "Most workers helped by workers' compensation insurance are legitimately injured on the job and need our help to recover and return to work. That's why it's so important for people to tell us when they know of workers' comp cheaters."
Jeffrey Pierson injured his back when moving equipment at the shop in June 2018. A year later, Karen Pierson was climbing stairs when she injured her neck, knee, and arm while working there. Their medical providers determined they couldn't work because of the workplace injuries, making them eligible to receive payments to replace part of their wages.
An L&I investigator presented the surveillance videos of the defendants to separate panels of medical experts called independent medical examiners. The panels determined that Karen Pierson should have been able to return to work on July 3, 2019, the day she claimed she was injured, and that Jeffrey Pierson should have been able to return to work in August 2018, about five weeks after his injury.
Surveillance video of mechanic
L&I began investigating Jeffrey Pierson after receiving an anonymous tip in February 2020 that he was continuing to work.
In nearly 90 videos from March to October 2020, Pierson was filmed cutting exhaust pipes, lifting a garbage can over his head, working under vehicles on an overhead lift, and doing a variety of other job tasks, according to charging papers.
Past-due L&I insurance premiums lead to investigation of office manager
Meanwhile, an L&I staff referral prompted the investigation of Karen Pierson around the same time as that of her husband. My Dad's Automotive had been late paying its workers' compensation insurance premiums for several years, according to charging documents.
The L&I revenue agent assigned to collect the past-due premiums discovered that while he was corresponding with Karen Pierson about the business, she was claiming to another part of L&I she was too injured to work. Investigators recorded nearly 60 videos and photos of her working at the shop between March and December 2020.
In-person visit finds couple working at shop
On Oct. 21, 2020, two L&I investigators visited My Dad's Automotive to ask why the shop reported to L&I that Jeffrey Pierson was earning $5,000 the month he was injured − information that helps determine wage replacement payments − while reporting to another state agency that he was earning $2,000 a month before the injury, according to charging papers.
Upon arrival, they saw Jeffrey Pierson was working in a service bay and Karen Pierson working in the office, charging papers said.
First-degree felony theft carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, plus restitution.
Fraud 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 provides medical, vocational, and other assistance to help workers who are injured on the job. The Washington State Office of the Attorney General is prosecuting the case based on the L&I investigation.
Jeff Mayor, L&I Public Affairs, 360-999-8920