TACOMA — A Federal Way man faces a felony theft charge after state investigators caught him working on a roof, despite the fact he was getting workers’ comp payments and claiming he was too injured to work.
José Guadalupe Sanchez, 49, is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Pierce County Superior Court on one count of First-Degree Theft. He’s accused of stealing more than $25,000 in wage-replacement checks from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).
L&I administers the state workers’ compensation insurance system, which provides medical and limited wage-replacement coverage to workers who are injured on the job. The Washington Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case based on an L&I investigation.
“Our agency’s goal is to help workers heal and return to work,” said Chris Bowe, assistant director of Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. “However, when they do return to work they must be truthful and report that to us — especially, if they are receiving wage-replacement benefits.”
Tip from former employer
Sanchez was injured on a construction job in late 2017, when he fell 16 feet from a ladder while working on the second story of a building. He broke his collarbone, ribs and a wrist, and suffered a collapsed lung. L&I accepted his workers’ compensation claim, and began covering his medical care and paying part of his lost wages.
But this past March, L&I launched an investigation after Sanchez’s employer at the time of the accident reported that Sanchez had returned to work for a different construction company while still receiving wage-replacement payments.
Working for $21 an hour
Investigators found that Sanchez had been working full time from at least mid-June 2018 through March 2019 for a Lakewood contractor, charging papers said. He was earning about $21 an hour for basic construction work, including roofing, demolition and drywall.
During the same period, Sanchez declared on official L&I forms that he was unable to work and led his medical providers to believe he wasn’t working. In addition, orders from the providers said he should not work and should not climb ladders.
Filmed working on roof
Investigators witnessed Sanchez working on a roof at a Tacoma apartment complex on three days in March. They filmed him using a drill on the roof, climbing down a ladder and driving away from the worksite.
In an interview with investigators in April, Sanchez admitted working while receiving the wage-replacement benefits, according to charging papers. Sanchez said he needed the money to make payments on his truck and to support his parents.
L&I fraud hotline
If you suspect someone is cheating the workers’ comp system, contact L&I at Lni.wa.gov/fraud or call 1-888-811-5974.