Since employees generally work more physically hazardous jobs than their bosses, they suffer the majority of workplace injuries and file most of the L & I claims in Washington State. But with these claims also comes criticism and skepticism from insurers and the business community. Workers often get a bad rap from Washington State Labor & Industries administrators for supposedly faking injuries and trying to claim fraudulent workers’ compensation benefits. Yet last week, L&I debunked the myth that businesses are innocent of committing workers compensation fraud when they released information on a prominent Spokane restaurant owner who faces a felony theft charges for allegedly defrauding L&I of nearly $250,000 in benefits over eight years.
The Spokane Valley business owner, Wanitta Racicot, claimed that she had injured both arms while working at her restaurant Broadway Bar and Grill, and was unable to continue regular duties. Yet after an investigation, Washington State L&I found that she had continued her full managerial duties — as well as busing tables and cooking — at the restaurant she owns during that entire period.
The Attorney General’s Office has charged Racicot with first-degree theft in Spokane County Superior Court. The business owner is scheduled to submit her plea those charges later this month.
According to L&I Lawyers who reviewed the court documents, Racicot filed for workers’ compensation benefits back in 200. She continually signed official documents claiming that she was no longer able to work as a result of her alleged injury.
Questions About L&I Claims
Yet in August of last year, L&I initiated an investigation when Racicot’s case raised the suspicion of a department employee, who was reviewing whether or not Racicot qualified for a pension.
During the investigation, Racicot told the department that her hands were so badly injured that she couldn’t even button a shirt. Yet the same month, an investigator saw Racicot haulng groceries, busing heavy dishes, wiping down bar counters and performing many other manual duties at her Spokane business. Moreover, Racicot’s employees told the investigator that she had consistently worked at her restaurant for over five years. Ironically, some of those employees reported that Racicot had refused to give her employees light-duty when they reported injury or illness of their own.
The charge alleges that Racicot received $249,267 in “time-loss” benefits to replace of lost wages from 2003 to 2011. Conviction in a first-degree theft case can carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison plus a $20,000 fine.