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Oct. 2, 2007

Whatcom County man sentenced for defrauding workers’ compensation system

TUMWATER — Willard Leech of Bellingham has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and 12 months of community supervision for illegally collecting workers’ compensation wage-replacement benefits while working at another job.

Leech, 53, was receiving time-loss benefits for a low-back injury that supposedly prevented him from working. Yet, for over 10 months Leech worked steadily at general carpentry and was observed working on a ladder and maneuvering roof trusses into place.

An investigation by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) led to Assistant Attorney General Susan DanPullo filing charges against Leech, who pleaded guilty to first-degree theft. He was sentenced Sept. 13.

In addition to his jail sentence, which he may serve alternatively through electronic home monitoring or daily work release, Leech was ordered to repay L&I nearly $19,000 he illegally collected in benefits, plus court costs of $800.

“Cheating the workers’ compensation system is not a victimless crime,” said Carl Hammersburg, manager of L&I’s Fraud Prevention and Compliance Program. “Workers who scam the system hurt their co-workers, as well as employers, because everyone’s premiums go up.”

Hammersburg thanked the Attorney General’s Office for taking on this case. “We have a close working relationship with county prosecutors,” he said. “However, this is one of those instances in which they were overloaded and allowed the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute the case on behalf of L&I.” 

Leech’s conviction stemmed from a workplace-injury claim originally filed in 1988, later closed and then reopened in 2004. When L&I discovered that he was continuing to work while collecting benefits, the agency issued fraud orders. L&I moved to file criminal charges against Leech since he had previously committed fraud against L&I.

In 2003, Leech was ordered to repay approximately $5,600 for illegally collecting workers’ compensation wage-replacement benefits.

L&I’s fraud web site, www.Fraud.LNI.wa.gov, includes an online form for reporting fraud. Anyone who suspects fraud may also call L&I’s fraud hotline at 1-888-811-5974.

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For media information: Barbara A. Davis, L&I Public Affairs, at 360-902-4216

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