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Former Provo police chief fighting Ohio workers' comp fraud

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 8:55 a.m. MDT

In this Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 photo, Rick Gregory, the new director of the Special Investigations Unit at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, poses for a photo in his office in Columbus, Ohio. Gregory says it's not fair that people following workers' comp rules are penalized by those who don't.  (Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Associated Press) In this Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 photo, Rick Gregory, the new director of the Special Investigations Unit at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, poses for a photo in his office in Columbus, Ohio. Gregory says it's not fair that people following workers' comp rules are penalized by those who don't. (Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Associated Press)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A veteran police officer has been hired to lead anti-fraud efforts at the $28 billion state insurance fund for injured workers.

Rick Gregory, on the job since the beginning of last month, will oversee 123 employees at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation Special Investigations Department.

The division was created 20 years ago to fight fraud in the workers' comp system, whether it's employees faking injuries while receiving disability or companies hiding employees to lower their rates. The workers' comp bureau says the fraud unit has saved $1.5 billion over its history. The insurance fund has total assets of approximately $28 billion.

Gregory, 51, was most recently police chief in Provo, Utah. He also served as police chief in New Castle County, Delaware, and worked for the Florida Highway Patrol for two decades.

Gregory says his goals include expanding work the fraud unit does with other state and federal law enforcement agencies.

"When people follow the rules and do it right, they are punished by virtue of the fact that other people don't do it right," Gregory said. "And I just think that's unfair."

Some of the fraud division's recent cases:

— An eastern Ohio man pleaded guilty to illegally receiving workers' comp benefits and was ordered to repay more than $4,500 after he was caught running a Pennsylvania tattoo shop when he was receiving temporary total disability benefits from a workplace injury.

— A Cleveland man was convicted of concealing employee payroll figures at his tire company so he could operate the business without workers' compensation coverage.

— A Toledo doctor pleaded guilty to charges of distributing a controlled substance, health care fraud and failure to pay employment taxes following an investigation that found he was prescribing an excessive amount of narcotics.

Fraud involving the inappropriate or illegal use of prescription painkillers remains one of the fraud unit's top priorities. Although the numbers are starting to fall, one of every five complaints the unit investigated last year involved drugs.

The unit acts on tips, conducts undercover work and researches records. In the modern world, it also relies on evidence inadvertently provided by perpetrators.

This year, an agency investigation led to the guilty plea of a man who was receiving benefits because of an injury but had posted pictures on his Facebook page of him rappelling as part of his new job as an Arizona construction worker.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company