In February, I reported that five For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) drivers had been charged with fraud by New York State’s Workers’ Compensation Board. In each of the cases, the drivers were charged with violating Section 114-A of the law, which penalizes people who misrepresent their employment status to get payments they aren’t entitled to receive.
One of the drivers recently ended up being charged with Grand Larceny in the third degree (a class D felony), Insurance Fraud in the third degree, and Falsifying Business Records in the first degree. He ended up cutting a deal and pleading guilty, so the charges of Insurance Fraud and Falsifying Business Records were dismissed, but he now has a criminal record for Petit Larceny, a class A misdemeanor.
He not only has to pay back all of the money he accepted (totaling $11,235) to The New York Black Car Fund, the Judge reminded him he could face future negative consequences regarding his immigration status, including possible deportation or exclusion from the United States. As part of the plea agreement, he also had to waive his right to an appeal and his DNA is now on file with the government.
In other cases that are currently being pursued, one claimant was disqualified from receiving additional benefits until 2024, another was disqualified from receiving further indemnity payments for 10 years, and a fourth was disqualified from receiving ALL future Workers’ Compensation benefits.
This is serious business. I know times are tough, but the legal ramifications are clearly severe, and I’m concerned that other drivers may be trying to “game the system,” perhaps without realizing just how serious this is or without considering the fact that they are stealing from their fellow drivers – from people who have a genuine need, that are in a bad way.
“As I’ve said before, if you commit fraud, the Workers’ Compensation Board is not the only thing you should be worried about,” explained Ira Goldstein, Executive Director of the Black Car Fund (BCF). “I warned that criminal convictions were a possibility, and this is just the first example of that. No amount of fraudulently obtained funds are worth ruining your life!”
Although Covid numbers are still high, it feels like we’ve finally turned the corner and better times are ahead. The state’s Workers’ Compensation Board is actively looking for people who are breaking the law, and it would be tragic to see more drivers have their lives destroyed over bad decisions, just as the city and its transportation industry are on the road to recovery.
The BCF is encouraging any drivers who illegally claimed Workers’ Compensation to “come clean” before they get in more serious trouble. According to the BCF, penalties are reduced for those that admit guilt in advance.
“At the end of the day, Workers’ Compensation fraud hurts everyone,” concludes Berj Haroutunian, Executive Chairman of the BCF. “Simply put, you are stealing public money from your fellow drivers. We have an obligation to recover any fraudulently obtained funds for those who truly need it, and we are not stopping any time soon. If you get caught, not only will you have to pay back all the money you stole, you could jeopardize your future with a criminal record… so don’t do it.”