Only on 12: Mayor pro tem declares 'somebody needs to pay the price' in possible workers' comp fraud

By: Chris Thomas Email
By: Chris Thomas Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday, Aug. 30, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- She was demoted for connections to time card fraud. Now an Augusta Recreation employee is on the hot seat again.

This time the issue centers around a workers' compensation claim that has city leaders scratching their heads.

"It seems like every time we put out one fire, something else pops up," said Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles.

Bowles is fired up after we got our hands on some alarming documents, and he is not alone.

"I would never even see a document like this," said City Administrator Fred Russell. "Now that I have [seen the documents], some of the dates are concerning."

Melinda Pearson claims she was injured on May 10. The city did not find out about the injury until June 21.

"You brought some things to my attention that I was not aware of," Russell said. "Thank you for doing that."

The personnel policy manual clearly states the injury must be reported as soon as possible but no later than the end of the day's shift.

"Do you feel like you've been duped?" we asked Bowles.

"I wouldn't say duped," Bowles replied. "But from the evidence you have shown me, somebody has obviously made an error or flat out tried to cover something up."

Keep in mind, Pearson was recently demoted in connection with time card fraud.

"I did sign that time card and that employee did not work," admitted Tom Beck, who was ultimately fired for his involvement in the scandal.

Pearson officially appealed the "malicious attack on her character and integrity" on May 8. Two days later, on May 10, she complained of a back strain on her new job as a maintenance worker.

"I don't want to speak to the individual in this case," Russell said. "But you have shown me a document that requires us to take a closer look."

The dates tell a story that brings to mind an old saying -- fool me once?

"Shame on you. Fool me twice. Shame on me," Bowles agreed. "Absolutely."

Even state guidelines say injuries must be reported no later than 30 days. Failure to do so could result in loss of benefits. We stopped by the Pearson home and tried reaching her by phone. She was not available.

"Somebody needs to pay the price," Bowles said.

Russell says he is now taking a second look at Pearson's file.

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