Dry cleaner comes clean, pleads guilty to stealing $21K in workers’ comp benefits
OLYMPIA — The owner of an Olympia dry cleaner must repay the state more than $21,000 after admitting to stealing workers’ compensation benefits.
Byung Sung Kang, 54, pleaded guilty Wednesday to third-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor, in Thurston County Superior Court. Judge Carol Murphy ordered the Lacey man to repay the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) $21,725.
That’s the amount in workers’ comp payments Kang stole over 14 months when he claimed his on-the-job injury was so severe he couldn’t work – at the same time he was running his Olympia business, Century Cleaners.
Though Kang told medical providers he was mostly resting at home, an L&I investigation caught him on camera lifting heavy loads of clothing, hanging and bundling garments, and performing other physical tasks at his dry cleaning shop.
In addition to ordering restitution, Murphy sentenced Kang to serve two years on probation.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case based on L&I’s investigation.
Workers’ comp fraud hurts employers, employees, injured workers
“This was a blatant case of someone trying to cheat workers’ compensation and lying about injuries. Not on our watch,” said Celeste Monahan, acting assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards division.
"Stealing workers’ compensation benefits raises costs for honest employers and employees paying into the system. Even worse, it takes resources from legitimately injured workers who need to heal and return to work.”
Kang injured his back in the summer of 2015 while working at the dry cleaning business, which he co-owns.
With a doctor's assessment that he was too injured to work, Kang began receiving payments from L&I in late 2016 to replace part of his salary. He also regularly submitted official forms stating he was unable to work because of his on-the-job injury.
L&I opened an investigation in 2019 after a search of state databases raised questions about Kang and his business.
Multiple witnesses, 32 days of surveillance
An L&I investigator interviewed multiple witnesses and surveilled Kang at his shop on 32 days that year.
One example in the charging papers was from October 2019. In that instance, the investigator filmed Kang working at the shop, then followed him to a medical exam, where the doctor wrote that Kang told him he had not worked since his 2015 injury.
After the appointment, Kang drove back to his shop and resumed work.
Under the court’s sentence Wednesday, Kang has two years to repay the $21,725 in stolen cash, and must make payments of at least $905 a month. The money will be returned to the workers’ compensation insurance fund.
Report workers’ comp fraud
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's Fraud division (Lni.wa.gov/Fraud) or call toll free 1-888-811-5974.
Debby Abe L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-6043