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March 18, 2002

L&I investigation results in more felony charges against Clark County couple

TUMWATER - Additional criminal charges have been filed against the Clark County owners of Bandits Express, a trucking firm whose owners are accused of falsifying payroll records to avoid paying more than $82,000 in workers' compensation premiums for their employees.

Clark County prosecutors filed charges last week against Larry J. and Phyllis Ann Brossard of Brush Prairie. The couple pleaded not guilty.

The Brossards already face several other counts of falsifying payroll records to avoid paying $224,000 in taxes. Included in that amount are workers' compensation premiums owed for employees of several companies the couple owns, including Brossard Excavating and Bumper Boats. During that investigation, which dates back to 1996, sheriff's deputies also discovered the couple was growing marijuana.

An on-going investigation by L&I auditors recently turned up another company owned by the couple. An audit of that company revealed that between August 2000 and March 2002 the Brossards knowingly misrepresented to L&I the number of hours worked and the amount of their payroll for drivers working at Bandits Express.

The L&I case is expected to go to trial on July 15.

Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle ruled that the marijuana charges against the Brossards be tried separately from the criminal workers' compensation case that resulted from the L&I investigation. The drug trial is scheduled for April 15.

The prosecution of the Brossards is part of a stepped-up fraud investigation effort at all levels by the Department of Labor & Industries. Between March 1998 and March 2000, the agency conducted 724 audits of unregistered employers who weren't reporting hours and therefore weren't contributing to the workers' compensation fund. In the most recent two-year period, ending Feb. 28, 2002, L&I conducted 1,364 audits and assessed more than $5.6 million in premiums.

Other areas of fraud also have received attention. Over the past 12 months, the agency has issued dozens of fraud orders against injured workers who were illegally collecting time-loss benefits. Some of the orders have been to collect payments and penalties as high as $425,000.

And last summer, L&I inspectors and auditors began focusing on residential wood framers who weren't contributing to the workers' compensation program. That initiative is about to enter a new phase next month, when L&I appeals to home builders and general contractors to stop doing business with framing subcontractors who aren't registered and don't have an up-to-date account with the state's industrial insurance program.

"Our goal is to level the playing field, so that an employer who breaks the law doesn't have a financial advantage over a company that looks out for its employees' welfare by contributing to workers' compensation," said Joel Sacks, deputy director of L&I.

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