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State charges Kent businessman with L&I benefits theft; man is son of lieutenant governor
The state Attorney General's Office has charged a Kent businessman with four counts of first-degree theft and one count of forgery for allegedly receiving $19,459 from the state for a job injury claim even though he had returned to work.
Mark Lee Owen, 39, the son of state Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, pleaded not guilty to the charges Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia.
Owen filed an industrial injury claim Nov. 9, 2009 with the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) after being shot in the arm at work at Kent Body, Paint and Fabrication by Carlos Fernandez, the owner of the business. Fernandez then shot himself and died two days later. The shooting reportedly occurred because of a business dispute between the two men as Owen had partial ownership of the shop.
Owen received medical services and time loss compensation from Nov. 13, 2009 through May 5, 2010, according to charging papers filed March 21.
But a state L&I investigation determined Owen returned to work within a couple of days of the injury. Owen withheld that information from the state. He would not have been entitled to time loss compensation had he properly reported his actual return to work date.
The state started an investigation after Owen left a message in February 2010 for a vocational specialist out of the Tacoma L&I office. Owen left a message but failed to disconnect the call as the answering machine recorded a conversation Owen had at work with a co-worker. On the recording, Owen states he was planning on receiving more time loss from the L&I then he was entitled to.
Investigators then conducted surveillance at Kent Body, Paint and Fabrication over several days in February 2010 and observed Owen working at the company. The work activities were observed and documented by personal observation as well as photographs and video, according to charging papers.
Investigators served a search warrant in July 2010 at the business and determined through interviews with co-workers that Owen returned to work within two weeks after the shooting.
Owen told investigators in March 2011 that he had collected time loss compensation while working at the Kent company. He indicated he returned to work two days after the shooting. Owen had signed and completed six worker verification forms in order to collect payments from the state because of his work-related injury.
Owen also allegedly assisted co-worker Steve Fernandez, the son of Carlos Fernandez, to illegally obtain benefits from L&I. Steve Fernandez worked at the Kent body shop prior to the Nov. 9, 2009 shooting. He claimed an industrial injury occurred on Nov. 23, 2009. Fernandez received $23,042 for time loss and $16,331 for medical benefits from Jan. 8, 2010 through July 16, 2010.
Investigators determined that Fernandez never returned to work at the shop after the death of his father. Owen reportedly inflated the wage paid to Fernandez and assisted in the fabrication of Fernandez's industrial injury claim.
The state also filed two counts of first-degree theft charges against Fernandez for the improper benefits.