With little fanfare North Dakota Workers' Compensation recently
won its 40th conviction for fraud. Though the event was not trumpeted
to the press, it marked a milestone for Dave Aberle.
Aberle, manager of NWDC's Special Investigations Unit, has worked
tirelessly to build the SIU into an effective deterrent. Created
by the state legislature in 1993, the SIU was staffed with a single
person in 1994 but has since grown to comprise four full-time investigators,
a paralegal and administrative assistant. The legislature has recently
approved hiring a fifth investigator.
In seven years the SIU has investigated 1670 cases; of these, 1506
focused on injured workers, 157 on employers, and seven involved
medical providers. Aberle's team has saved NDWC $16.7 million.
Though the totals would seem to tilt against injured workers, the
emphasis is shifting more toward keeping an eye on some of the businesses
that employ them. "Our number one concern now is employers
who don't provide coverage for their workers." Aberle said
the new investigator will focus primarily on employer fraud.
The 40th conviction involved a businessman who was running two
businesses "under the table," even while he filed monthly
reports claiming to be totally disabled himself and collected benefits
for the past decade. He was ordered to pay restitution and serve
five years probation, the first year under court supervision.
Aberle, who had 20 years of experience with the police and sheriff's
departments of Bismarck prior to joining NDWC, does not expect a
major shift toward employer fraud cases. "We have about 22,000
employer accounts, and that stays pretty constant. But about 20,000
new claims are filed each year, and as many as 3 percent of those
might be referred for investigation. So, obviously, we're going
to see more cases involving workers."