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August 8, 2000

Chehalis man pleads guilty in $61,000 fraud case

TUMWATER - A 56-year-old Lewis county man plead guilty to a felony charge of first degree theft and 10 counts of forgery for fraudulently receiving workers' compensation benefits.

A Lewis County Superior Court judge sentenced Ronald Earl Bennett to five days in jail, 240 hours of community service, nearly $2,000 in fines and court costs, and restitution to the Department of Labor & Industries. The restitution amount will be set at a later date.

Bennett was receiving workers' compensation benefits for a Jan. 18, 1997 on-the-job injury he sustained while working as a machinist for Cinebar Construction Co. in Cinebar.

An investigation showed that Bennett had been working as a machinist and foreman for his wife's machine and fabrication business in Chehalis while he was receiving workers' compensation benefits. These included time-loss payments and vocational services. Bennett did not inform the department or his vocational counselor that he was working.

The department paid Bennett $48,105 in time-loss benefits and spent $8,301 in vocational costs between March 1, 1997 and March 4, 1999. The department also incurred $5,525 in investigation costs. The department is claiming $61,931 in damages from Bennett.

Bennett's wife, Debra Joy Bennett, pleaded guilty on a gross misdemeanor charge for conspiring with the claimant in the theft.

Labor & Industries manages the state's workers' compensation system. It provides coverage for about 163,000 employers and 1.9 million workers.

Anyone who suspects fraudulent activity may report it anonymously to L&I by calling 360-902-5153 or online at fraud.lni.wa.gov

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