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Thursday, December 13, 2001

Minnesota woman ordered to repay state $434,851

TUMWATER - In the largest fraud order ever issued against an individual, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has ordered a 52-year-old Minnesota woman to repay the state $434,851 after an investigation showed she continued to collect workers' compensation widow's benefits long after she remarried.

Sharon Bernard, who was going by the name Sharon Keen, began collecting benefits in 1971 after her husband, Loren Bernard, was fatally injured while working as an apprentice maintenance mechanic in Tacoma. After her husband's death, Bernard moved to Detroit Lakes, Minn., where she remarried a year later.

Keen's marriage was discovered after she called the department to complain that she hadn't received a check. When an L&I employee returned her call, a relative answered and said nobody by the name of Sharon Bernard lived there. During the conversation the relative said Bernard had remarried years earlier.

An investigation showed Bernard hid her remarriage from the department by submitting false information about her marital status in order to continue collecting widow's benefits. The order against Sharon Bernard-Keen reflects the amount of money she collected illegally in workers' compensation benefits plus a 50 percent penalty.

L&I investigators pursue individuals who have relocated to other states where they collect benefits for which they are not entitled. The ability to cross-match data with other government and private agencies nationwide has greatly improved the department's ability to track down individuals who are receiving benefits illegally.

Labor & Industries manages the state's workers' compensation system. It provides coverage for more than 163,000 employers and 1.9 million workers. The agency is committed to eliminating fraud. Anyone who suspects fraudulent activity may report it anonymously online at fraud.lni.wa.gov, or by calling L&I's toll free-number, 1-888-811-5974.

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