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February 16, 1996

Couple ordered to repay L&I $350,000 for filing phony injury claims

TUMWATER - A couple has been ordered to repay the state workers' compensation system $350,000 after claiming they couldn't work because of on-the-job injuries at the same time they were operating an employment agency with offices in Burien and Fife.

A 10-month investigation by the state Department of Labor & Industries determined that Mark W. Johnson, 34, of Moclips, and Donna Marie Johnson, 45, of Puyallup, were not entitled to the $233,279 in benefits they received. An order by the department seeks repayment of that amount, plus a 50 percent penalty for filing the fraudulent claims.

The L&I investigation of Mark Johnson was based on an injury claim he filed in 1983 while working for a car dealership in Olympia. He continued to collect disability benefits until September 1995, even though he went to work for his wife's employment agency in 1987. He was ordered to repay L&I $145,048, plus a penalty of $72,524.

The investigation shows Johnson and his wife, using the name Donna M. Buehler, filed a false injury claim in 1991 stating that she was an employee of the business and was injured on the job. According to L&I investigators, the two fabricated a Social Security number and Mark Johnson signed a statement that declared him as the office manager and certifying Buehler as an employee rather than the owner of Placements Unlimited.

Owners of businesses are not covered through the state workers' compensation system unless they enroll for optional coverage, which Mrs. Johnson had not. Mrs. Johnson was ordered to refund the department $88,231, plus a penalty of $44,115.

The couple's pending divorce in April 1995 prompted the investigation when Mark Johnson filed a complaint against his wife alleging her injury claim to be false. While he denied prior knowledge of the claim, the resulting investigation determined the couple had in fact conspired.

The L&I investigation examined 2,000 checks and other bank records, documents siezed by court order from the business, and included several witness interviews. The agency was assisted by police for King County and Fife.

Both cases were referred to Thurston County prosecutors for possible charges of theft.

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For media information, contact: 
L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5400 or publicaffairs@lni.wa.gov

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