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Florida packing plant's workers accused of workers comp fraud

Florida packing plant's workers accused of workers comp fraud

The vast majority of workers at a Naples, Florida, produce packing plant are accused in a scheme to commit workers compensation fraud, the Florida Department of Financial Services said Tuesday.

Some 146 employees, many of them immigrant workers, at Fruit Dynamics L.L.C. have been charged with workers comp fraud as a result of an identity theft investigation that began in mid-2013, Maj. Geoffrey Branch of the state agency told Business Insurance in an email.

Some employees also were accused of identity theft.

Of the 146 accused, 105 were arrested in a raid at the plant last week. Only 23 of 169 employees at the Florida plant are not accused in the probe.

“An investigation was launched after division personnel received information that an employee seeking medical attention for an on-the-job injury confessed to his attorney that his identity was not in fact what was listed on his employment paperwork,” Maj. Branch said in the email. “This employee admitted to utilizing a fake identity to gain employment. He also suggested that others had done the same.”

While the most workers at the plant, which is owned by Naples-based Oakes Farms, are accused of workers comp fraud, Maj. Branch said there's no reason to believe Oakes Farms owners or leadership were aware of illegal activities.

“This type of fraud (happens) because most employers are not document experts,” Maj. Branch wrote. “(It's) tough for employers to detect.”

Services such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify system “can shed some light as to whether or not documentation like an I-9 (employment eligibility form) is legitimate,” Maj. Branch said in the email. “Employers are encouraged to speak with their staff and let them know that providing false or fraudulent personal identification will not be tolerated and that it constitutes fraud, even if a (workers comp) claim is never filed. Employers have an absolute right to know exactly who they are covering and responsible for should an accident take place.”

Oakes Farms CEO Alfie Oakes told a local Fox TV affiliate that the workers had been replaced and it was business as usual at Fruit Dynamics following last week's raid.

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