Kenneth Featherling recently resigned from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
Managers of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation stifled an investigation into possible identity theft by illegal immigrants and demoted an investigator who had been pursuing the issue, the investigator alleges in a discrimination case.
In June, the bureau teamed up with a county sheriff to investigate cases in which injured employees used phony Social Security numbers on their workers’ compensation claims.
Months later, however, the bureau soured on the effort and demoted the investigator, Kenneth Featherling, who had been aggressively pursuing the alleged violations, Featherling says in a filing with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
“Clearly, I was being punished for investigating the wrongful use of Social Security numbers and ID theft,” said the complaint by Featherling, who had worked for the state since 1997 and quit this month.
Bureau of Workers’ Compensation officials noted that injured workers don’t need to be U.S. citizens to receive benefits. Officials said they continue to investigate and prosecute fraud but are not in the immigration business.
“I don’t have jurisdiction to investigate illegal aliens,” said Thomas J. Wersell, the bureau’s director of fraud investigations. “It’s beyond my authority.”
Featherling said he identified a “huge” number of workers’ compensation claims that had invalid Social Security numbers in 2007. He said he focused his investigation on Butler, Montgomery and Hamilton counties, working with the Butler County sheriff’s office.
Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones has been an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and a lightning rod for criticism from immigrant-rights advocates.
Jones’ office worked with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation from March through June of last year on a pilot program to catch workers who put false Social Security numbers on workers’ compensation claims.
His office said in June that it had arrested three people for providing phony Social Security numbers on workers’ compensation claims.
Butler County Sheriff’s Maj. Norman Lewis said yesterday that his office continues to use the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation as a resource on fraud cases.
During the pilot program, Wersell said, Featherling homed in on cases in which the Social Security numbers on workers’ compensation claim forms didn’t match those from the Social Security Administration. But rather than investigate all discrepancies equally, Featherling’s team appeared to be focusing on certain individuals, Wersell said without elaborating.
Featherling’s attorney, Dianne D. Einstein, said cases were selected based on objective criteria. There was no racial profiling, she said.
Featherling was demoted to a desk position working security and submitted his resignation effective last Friday. He has filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission and the Ohio Personnel Board of Review alleging that Wersell and others illegally retaliated against him for blowing the whistle on identity theft.