It looked like an ordinary video of a general contractor operating a backhoe on a Spokane homeowner’s property.
But it might also be evidence that the contractor was stealing workers’ compensation benefits and lying about being unemployed due to injury, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries says.
L&I says Deborah J. Steeneck, 59, stole more than $11,000 in cash benefits between May and October 2015. The Washington Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting Steeneck, who also goes by the last names Smith and Rasmussen, according to court documents.
“In a given year we accept around 95,000 claims from injured workers, and we know there will be a small number of fraud cases within those numbers,” L&I spokesperson Debby Abe said in an email. “While the numbers are small, we do our best to track down people who are ripping off the system and hold them accountable.”
The homeowner, who paid Steeneck more than $20,000 to complete construction on his home between May and October 2015, had a falling out with her and found out she was also an unregistered contractor, according to court documents.
L&I says Steeneck first claimed insurance benefits in 1992, when she fell while carrying a steel beam with a coworker and was diagnosed with back, shoulder and rib injuries, court documents say. She then received time-loss payments between April 2011 and October 2015 after signing declarations she was not employed due to workplace injuries.
The homeowner gave L&I a calendar Steeneck left behind at his home that appeared to list other work locations, hours and employees, among other details, according to court documents.
Steeneck’s employees confirmed in interviews with L&I investigators that she had had “hired them, paid them and worked alongside them.” A neighbor said he saw her working there, in addition to fixing his own fence.
A judge signed a warrant for Steeneck’s arrest Wednesday, after she did not appear for her arraignment in Superior Court on a charge of first-degree theft.
“Workers’ comp cheaters are breaking the law and we want to stop them. They’re taking money that’s meant to help people who have real workplace injuries, and they’re raising costs for the employers and employees who pay into the system,” Abe said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.