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Couple colluded in comp caper

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A New Lebanon, Ohio, couple has pleaded guilty to workers compensation fraud and been ordered to pay $108,000 in restitution, the state's Bureau of Workers' Compensation said Friday.

Mike Watkins worked at his business, Mike Watkins Sterling Homes Inc., for two years while collecting temporary total disability benefits for a workplace injury, the bureau said in a statement.

Though Mr. Watkins said he was employed by TRW Supreme Homes L.L.C., owned by his wife Terri Watkins, the bureau's special investigations department found that his payroll checks were never cashed, according to the statement.

Rather, the checks were used as “proof of wages” so Mr. Watkins could qualify for living maintenance wage loss benefits, which are available to injured workers who have completed a rehabilitation plan but continue to have physical restrictions and experience a wage loss upon return to work, the bureau said in the statement.

Ms. Watkins pleaded guilty to one count of complicity to commit workers comp fraud on June 15, and Mr. Watkins pleaded guilty to one count of workers comp fraud on Dec. 16, according to the statement. They were ordered to repay the bureau a combined $108,000, and Mr. Watkins was sentenced to 30 days in jail, which was suspended for five years of community control.

“The Watkins took deliberate steps that were clearly designed to maximize the dollars they could receive fraudulently from BWC for his workplace injury,” bureau administrator and CEO Steve Buehrer said in the statement. “That's unfortunate and not representative of the many who truly need assistance as they recover.”

In total, nine people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to charges related to defrauding Ohio's workers comp system last month, according to the bureau.