The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (“L&I”) claims that a co-owner of a restaurant in Spokane fraudulently claimed almost $250,000 in workers’ compensation benefits. Wanitta Racicot, who co-owns the Broadway Bar & Grill, claimed that she suffered work-related injuries in 2001 that made her unable to work in her restaurant, according to an article from the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Racicot is expected to enter a plea to the charges in September and, if she is found guilty, faces up to ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
The charges stem from a workplace investigation conducted by L&I related to Racicot’s workers’ compensation claims. Her claims raised flags when an L&I employee examined Racicot’s case to determine if she should receive a pension. Racicot had claimed that she injured both of her arms while working at a restaurant and was unable to keep working. From 2003 until 2011, Racicot received workers’ compensation benefits for lost wages. During that time, she signed official documents stating that she was not employed or able to work because of her injuries. In 2011, Racicot told an investigator that her hands were still so injured that she was unable to put on earrings or button her shirts.
However, according to an L&I press release, an investigator witnessed—and filmed—Racicot working at her restaurant in 2011 and performing tasks such as scrubbing counters, carrying groceries, and clearing heavy dishes off of tables. The L&I investigator also interviewed current and former employees and associates, who stated that Racicot had been working in her restaurant for at least five years, and possibly even since 2001. After the investigation, Racicot was charged with felony theft related to the almost $250,000 she claimed in benefits.
L&I covers certain workers who are injured on the job through workers’ compensation insurance. Employees who suffer workplace injuries may be eligible for benefits, including:
-Medical Benefits – payment of medical bills related to the workplace injury
-Prescription Medications – payment for certain prescriptions necessary to treat certain conditions
-Time-Loss Compensation – payment of wages lost due to the workplace injury
-Travel Reimbursement – reimbursement for required trips to the doctor
-Disability Benefits – permanent partial disability benefits or pensions for permanent total disability
-Property Reimbursement – reimbursement for property that was damaged or lost because in connection with a workplace injury
Here, Racicot had claimed time-loss compensation for wages lost due to injury. If she had in fact been working during that time period, she should not have been able to receive compensation for lost wages. This case is a good illustration of how workers’ compensation benefits can help employees who have suffered workplace injuries—and how workers’ compensation fraud can lead to criminal charges. If you have questions about these issues, feel free to contact an employment lawyer.