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SHERIFF HIRING PRIVATE EYES INVESTIGATORS WILL PROBE WORKERS' COMP ABUSE.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

Suspecting that too many of his employees are filing fraudulent workers' compensation claims, Sheriff Lee Baca said Tuesday that he is hiring 10 private investigators to crack down on abuses.

The announcement came after the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to allow Baca to spend $1.5 million annually to create a Workers' Compensation Fraud Unit.

``Do not pretend you fell off your chair, don't pretend you stubbed your toe and don't pretend you did something on the job when you know darn well you did it at home or somewhere else,'' Baca said of fraudulent filers.

The new fraud unit follows a request by Supervisor Gloria Molina earlier this year for county Risk Manager Rocky Armfield to investigate potential fraud in 35 cases of more than 5,800 former public-safety employees who retired with disability pensions.

In January, the Daily News reported that an average of 79 percent of firefighters and 56 percent of sheriff's deputies had received lucrative service-connected disability pensions in the past decade, a rate among the highest in the state.

Armfield said a key reason for the high rates is that public-safety workers sometimes file several workers' compensation claims during their careers - especially in the year preceding retirement - in an effort to maximize their disability pensions.

``A lot of the excess is in the psychological side of the workers' compensation world,'' Baca said. ``What I find amazing is somebody can claim huge stresses in a job assignment, get a workers' compensation award, take a disability retirement and then go off and work in another full-time job in the private sector with no stress at all.

``It strikes me as ironic the capacity to recover quickly after you are out of a certain job and then easily move on to the next job.''

Each year, a couple of hundred sheriff's employees file stress-related workers' compensation claims, said Leadership and Training Division Chief Bill McSweeney.

Currently, there are more than 7,200 open industrial-injury claims. About 4,000 are filed annually - or nearly a dozen every day.

Baca said fraud experts in the insurance industry told him that 5 percent to 15 percent of all workers' compensation claims are fraudulent or abusive.

``I think it's obviously going to be cost-effective and will save us tens of millions of dollars,'' Baca said.

Troy Anderson, (213) 974-8985

troy.anderson(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 13, 2005
Words:398
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