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June 27, 2022

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Vancouver couple must repay $139K in stolen workers’ compensation benefits

They claimed they were too hurt to work, but found were working

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Jeffrey and Karen Pierson of Vancouver pleaded guilty to felony second-degree theft last week, after collecting workers’ compensation insurance benefits while continuing to work at their son’s Hazel Dell auto repair shop.

The couple will now have to repay the state nearly $140,000 and individually serve 240 hours of electronic home detention.

“We’re pleased we can return this stolen money to the state workers’ compensation fund,” said Celeste Monahan, acting assistant director of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries fraud prevention and labor standards division, in a press release. “That’s where it belongs: Helping injured workers heal and return to work, not fattening the wallets of impostors.”

The Piersons claimed they were too injured to work at their son’s shop, My Dad’s Automotive and Exhaust, in Hazel Dell.

Jeffrey Pierson, 62, injured his back when moving equipment in June 2018 and continued to collect worker’s compensation payments into 2020. Still, during that time, he was filmed on 90 separate occasions working as a mechanic in the shop, read the department’s press release.

In July 2019, his wife, Karen, 63, hurt her neck, knees and arm climbing stairs. She was working as the shop’s office manager. She also continued to collect payments into 2020 and was filmed 60 times working in the shop, according to the release.

The couple regularly stated on official forms that they could not work because of injuries suffered on the job. When two investigators from the Labor & Industries department visited My Dad’s Automotive and Exhaust in October 2020, however, both Jeffrey and Karen Pierson were found there working at their respective jobs.

An L&I employee was also assigned to collect outstanding industrial insurance premiums from the auto shop, according to the press release. As the staffer started corresponding with Karen Pierson about the payments, they discovered she was also claiming to the department that she was too injured to work. 

At the time of their injuries, the Piersons’ health care providers determined that the couple were too injured to work, making them eligible to receive workers’ compensation insurance benefits.

However, when L&I investigators showed the videos captured of the two at work to a panel of independent medical examiners, the examiners said that Jeffrey Pierson could have returned to work five weeks after his injury and that his wife’s injury never impeded her ability to work.

The Piersons pleaded guilty in Thurston County Superior Court. Jeffrey Pierson must repay $89,976 to the state’s Department of Labor & Industries, and his wife must repay $49,723.

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