A Spanaway woman who admitted stealing injured-worker benefits while operating a BBQ eatery must pay back Washington state more than $56,000.
Susan Kathleen Ruiz, former owner of Roadside BBQ, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to felony first-degree theft, stemming from a workers’ compensation scam.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon ordered Ruiz to pay $56,147 in restitution to the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) plus $800 in court costs. He also sentenced her to 30 days in jail, but allowed her to serve the time at home on electronic monitoring.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case based on an L&I investigation.
“Cheating the workers’ comp system hurts injured workers who depend on it to heal and return to work. It’s also unfair to the employers and employees who fund the system with their hard-earned dollars,” said Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. “It’s not a victimless crime.”
Ruiz began receiving workers’ comp benefits after falling from a ladder in 2007 while working as a painter. She insisted the injury left her too injured to work for several years, a claim that was supported by her treating physician.
After receiving a tip, an L&I investigation unearthed a paper trail of bank and lease records, health department inspections and other documents showing Ruiz owned and operated Roadside BBQ in Spanaway from at least May 2012 to November 2013.
Undercover investigators caught Ruiz on video directing employees and overseeing business at the eatery in 2013. Two of Ruiz’s employees told L&I that a man listed as the restaurant owner on a business license was actually her accountant.
Man buys restaurant directly from Ruiz
Two of Ruiz’s employees told L&I that a man listed as the restaurant owner on a business license was actually her accountant, but that Ruiz tried to make it look like he was the owner. When Ruiz sold the establishment in late 2013, the buyer told L&I that he purchased it directly from Ruiz.
L&I launched the investigation based on a worker tip. “If you suspect fraud, let us know,” said Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of L&I Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards division. “The workers’ comp system is here to help workers who are truly injured. When people steal these benefits it hurts all of us.”
To report fraud, go to www.Lni.wa.gov/Fraud or call 1-888-811-5974 and press 1.