A Spokane-area woman faces a felony theft charge for allegedly running a construction business while claiming she was too disabled to work.
Deborah J. Steeneck, 59, is accused of stealing more than $11,000 in workers' compensation cash benefits from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). Steeneck is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday, July 24, in Spokane County Superior Court on a charge of first-degree theft.
Officially declares she can't work
Steeneck applied for workers' comp benefits after injuring her back, shoulder and ribs in 1992 while working for a construction company.
She received L&I wage-replacement payments off and on until October 2015. She was eligible based on her doctor's assessments and her signed declarations that she was not working because of workplace injuries.
Whistleblower tip triggers investigation
In December 2015, a Spokane homeowner told L&I that Steeneck had worked as a general contractor and laborer remodeling his home from May through October that year, according to charging papers.
The homeowner had a falling-out with Steeneck, and found out she wasn't registered as a contractor, and shouldn't have been working at all since she was receiving workers' comp benefits.
Operates backhoe while collecting wage-replacement payments
Charging papers say the whistleblower provided L&I with more than $20,000 in cashed checks he wrote her, along with photos and video of her operating a backhoe on his property. He also provided a work calendar that Steeneck left at his home, listing days she worked there, other job sites, medical appointments and employee names.
In addition, several people who worked alongside Steeneck on the remodel told L&I that they were her employees.
As a result of the investigation, L&I closed Steeneck's workers' comp case as of mid-October 2015. Charging papers note that she also goes by Deborah J. Smith and Deborah J. Rasmussen.
The Washington Attorney General's Office is prosecuting the case based on L&I's investigation. L&I administers the state workers' compensation insurance system, which helps injured workers heal and return to work.
Washington State Dept of L&I
Workers' comp cheaters take resources away from legitimately injured workers and raise costs for employers and employees who pay into the system. If you suspect someone is cheating on workers' comp, contact L&I's Fraud division (Lni.wa.gov/Fraud) or call 1-888-811-5974.