VILLE PLATTE – A months-long investigation by the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) and Louisiana Attorney General’s office into the business practices of a Ville Platte medical staffing firm ended today with the arrest of the company’s owners.
Brett McElwee and Daniel Fuselier, owners of First Choice Medical Staffing, were arrested on charges of insurance fraud and unlawful practices involving workers’ compensation coverage. The two surrendered to authorities today at the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The arrests are part of an ongoing effort by LWC to crack down on workers’ compensation fraud by both businesses and workers, said Chris Broadwater, director of the LWC Office of Workers’ Compensation. “Our message should be clearly heard: If employers or employees are operating outside the bounds of the law, we will investigate these matters thoroughly and will seek to apply all remedies available under the law," he said.
According to investigators, McElwee and Fuselier grossly under-reported their company’s payroll and number of employees in order to reduce the cost of their workers’ compensation premium.
Beginning last year, LWC ramped up its investigations into suspected employer and employee fraud. In 2009, the LWC Fraud Unit conducted 3,130 investigations, a 64 percent increase over 2008. From those investigations, 26 referrals of both employers and workers were made to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution, a nearly seven-fold increase over 2008.
Through April 2010, LWC has conducted more than 1,000 investigations, with 14 referrals for criminal prosecution.
“Our fraud and compliance units have done a fantastic job rooting out fraudulent activity wherever it is found,” said Broadwater. Much of the work is done by analyzing claims processed for workers’ comp and unemployment insurance and reviewing employer quarterly records.
It is illegal for businesses to misrepresent the status of their employees in an effort to avoid paying workers’ compensation insurance, payroll taxes and other employee-related costs.
“All employers doing business in Louisiana are required to provide workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. Businesses that are not covering their employees are shortchanging those employees and driving up costs for other businesses,” said Broadwater. “This is an important step in creating a level playing field for all businesses to compete fairly.”
Employers who fail to comply can face fines per employee per incident. Continued non-compliance can result in larger fines, an injunction from doing business in the state or possible jail time.
For more information or to report suspected acts of fraud or non-compliance, contact the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Finance and Compliance Division at 225-342-5658 or Fraud Division at 225-342-7558.
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