A Spokane County man stands accused of running a bar while claiming he was too injured to work, in a scheme to collect more than $230,000 in state workers' comp and federal disability benefits.
Dennis J. Bennett, 63, of Verndale, was scheduled for arraignment on Monday in Spokane County Superior Court on two charges of felony, first degree theft.
The Washington Attorney General’s office is prosecuting the case based on a joint investigation by the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) and the U.S. Social Security Administration.
According to the charges, Bennett wrongfully received more than $188,000 in wage-replacement benefits from L&I, and more than $47,000 in Social Security disability cash benefits at various times from 2012 to 2016.
“It’s possible to legally receive workers’ comp and Social Security benefits at the same time,” said Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of L&I Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. “But people need to tell the truth if they go to work or their physical abilities change.
“The workers’ comp system is here to help legitimately injured workers heal and return to work. It’s our job to track down and hold people accountable who are stealing benefits they don’t have coming to them.”
Charging papers allege Bennett was operating his Spokane Valley business, the Cum Inn Bar & Grill, while telling state and federal authorities that he couldn’t work because he was injured on the job.
He was being treated through his L&I claim for knee and back injuries, and later told the Social Security Administration he also had neck injuries.
Yet investigators witnessed and filmed Bennett regularly working at his bar during undercover surveillance in early 2016. They saw him serving beer and cocktails, cooking, stocking cabinets, helping load a cooler in a vehicle and walking normally.
Alcohol distributors told investigators that Bennett placed and received orders, and at least one business had security video of him purchasing and lifting containers of alcohol. In addition, social media posts showed him working as a bartender, helping with karaoke and hosting a 2015 car show.
Charging papers say that during a 2016 interview with investigators, Bennett acknowledged that he served customers and did other tasks in the 60 to 70 hours a week that he said he spent at the bar. He insisted that he didn’t consider it work. Yet, he admitted that if he didn’t do those tasks, he would have to pay someone else to do them.
Bennett was originally injured in 2002 while working for a trucking firm. Based partly on his alleged deception, doctors eventually reported to L&I that Bennett’s workplace injuries had grown so serious that he couldn’t work. The doctors’ findings, plus Bennett’s declarations that he wasn’t working, allowed him to receive partial replacement of his wages from L&I.
In 2016, an L&I investigator, who knew Bennett from a previous case, was at the bar for an unrelated investigation when he saw him working there. L&I then began investigating Bennett and enlisted the agents from Social Security’s Office of Inspector General.
(story and photo: KHQ.com)