A Vancouver couple have been charged with the theft of workers’ compensation insurance benefits from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.
Jeffrey Bart Pierson, 61, is accused of stealing more than $116,000 over about two years, and Karen S. Pierson, 62, is accused of stealing more than $64,000 over about 15 months. The couple worked at My Dad’s Automotive & Exhaust, a Hazel Dell auto repair shop owned by their son.
Court documents allege that the couple regularly stated on official forms that they could not work due to injuries suffered on the job, but L&I investigators recorded dozens of videos of them working at the shop during the time they were receiving disability benefits.
The Piersons are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court on one count each of first-degree theft. The Class B felony carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, plus restitution, according to a press release from L&I.
Reached for comment on Monday, Jeffrey Pierson stated that the situation was the subject of an ongoing lawsuit between himself and L&I, but declined to comment further.
According to probable cause affidavits written by L&I investigator Matthew Rainey, Jeffery Pierson submitted an accident report form in June 2018, claiming that he had suffered a back injury while at work. Karen Pierson submitted an accident report in July 2019, claiming that she had suffered multiple injuries while climbing stairs at work.
Their medical providers determined that they couldn’t work because of the injuries, which made them eligible for time-loss compensation payments from the state.
L&I began investigating Jeffrey Pierson after receiving an anonymous online tip in February 2020 that he had returned to work despite still drawing time-loss benefits.
An L&I staffer also was assigned to collect outstanding payments from the auto shop, which had repeatedly failed to pay its industrial insurance premiums, according to Rainey’s affidavit.
The staffer began corresponding with Karen Pierson about the payments issue and discovered that she was separately claiming to L&I that she also was too injured to work.
According to the affidavit, Rainey and other investigators recorded nearly 90 surveillance videos of Jeffrey Pierson performing various job tasks from March to October 2020, and nearly 60 videos and photos of Karen Pierson working from March to December.
About two weeks after Jeffrey Pierson filed his initial injury notice, L&I received an accident report from the automotive business stating that his wages were $5,000 per month — a figure which was used to calculate time-loss payments, according to a press release from the agency.
However, a review of Employment Security Department records showed that the business had reported Jeffrey Pierson’s income as $2,000 per month in each quarter from 2013 up until the month of the accident, according to Rainey.
Rainey visited the shop with another investigator on Oct. 21 to ask about the discrepancy, according to his probable cause statement. When they arrived, they saw Jeffrey Pierson working in a service bay and Karen Pierson working in the office.
Rainey said he later sent the video clips of each defendant to independent medical examiners, who concluded that Jeffrey Pierson should have been able to return to work five weeks after his injury and Karen Pierson should have been able to return to work almost immediately.