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Restaurant owner must repay stolen comp payments

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A Washington state restaurant owner who admitted to stealing workers compensation benefits is ordered to pay more than $56,000 in restitution, the state Department of Labor & Industries said.

Susan Kathleen Ruiz, a former painter from Spanaway, Washington, began receiving workers comp benefits in 2007 after falling off a ladder, the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

A Labor & Industries investigation found that Ms. Ruiz, who said she was too injured to work as a result of her 2007 fall, owned and operated a restaurant called Roadside BBQ from at least May 2012 to November 2013, the statement says.

Two Roadside BBQ employees told the department that a man listed as the restaurant owner on a business license was actually Ms. Ruiz's accountant and, when she sold the restaurant in 2013, the buyer said he bought it directly from Ms. Ruiz, according to the statement.

Ms. Ruiz has pleaded guilty to theft in the first degree and must repay Labor & Industries, Washington's monopoly workers comp insurer, $56,147 in restitution, the statement says.

“Cheating the workers comp system hurts injured workers who depend on it to heal and return to work,” Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of the department's fraud prevention and labor standards program, said in the statement. “It's also unfair to the employers and employees who fund the system with their hard-earned dollars. It's not a victimless crime.”