Ville Platte business owners arrested on fraud charges

VILLE PLATTE – A months-long investigation by the Louisiana Workforce
Commission 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.

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