BATAVIA, Ohio – A Batavia tree trimmer has to pay nearly $50,000 after investigators secretly videotaped him working while he was collecting workers' comp, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
WATCH a video clip in the player above.
Josh Cutler got in trouble after somebody tipped off the BWC that he was working for a tree trimming operation while collecting disability for an injury at another trimming business, the state said.
The state says it loses about $400 million a year in workers' comp fraud and the BWC has a special investigation staff of 122 trying to flush it out. Most of the investigations start with tips.
"Ex-girlfriends, boyfriends, family members, co-workers ..." said Agent Thompson, who didn't want to give his first name in order to protect his identity.
Agents have an arsenal of surveillance tools - from big cameras to tiny lenses in ball caps, water bottles, even coffee cups. "We want to put a stop to it." Thompson said.
Cutler, however, said he contests the state's claim he was caught working when he wasn't supposed to be. Cutler provided WCPO with documents that show he was allowed to work when the video was recorded.
"The (state) tried to allege that I returned to work earlier than I had told them," Cutler said. "I did not and the court threw that out."
BWC spokesman Bill Teets said the state is 100 percent accurate in its reporting.
"Yes, we knew he was working," Teets said. "But he told us he was working one job when he was actually doing another job. He was working a job he was not supposed to be working. And furthermore, he was reporting a different amount of money that he was actually making.
"He told us he was working in an office, but he was actually trimming trees."
Cutler pleaded guilty in Franklin County last month to felony counts of workers’ compensation fraud and forgery.
“Our investigators were able to capture surveillance video that clearly demonstrated Cutler was working, but even the video didn’t tell the whole story,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer. “They also uncovered proof that Cutler was taking deliberate steps to ensure he continued receiving benefits, which is also a crime.”
Cutler was receiving living maintenance wage loss (LMWL) and temporary total disability benefits, according to BWC. Workers can get LMWL if they do rehabilitation but still lose wages and have physical restrictions after returning to work. But Cutler was not submitting his real paychecks to BWC as required. Instead, he was submitting forged checks, or checks for lower amounts that he did not cash, BWC said.
Cutler was ordered to repay $47,400, which included $45,000 in restitution and $2,400 for investigative costs. The judge suspended his one-year jail sentence and put him on community control for 18 months.
REPORT suspected workers’ compensation fraud at 1-800-644-6292 or bwc.ohio.gov.