Officials at the Ventura County district attorney's office have declined to help state insurance authorities investigate and prosecute workers' compensation fraud cases because the state would not pay them enough money to cover their expenses.
District Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said he applied for $30,000 in funding to go after people who file false workers' compensation claims under a program established by the state Legislature in January. But, he said, the state would only give the county prosecutors $22,507 for 18 months of work, not nearly enough to pay for their efforts.
Bradbury sharply criticized officials at the Department of Insurance for allocating to Los Angeles County nearly 55% of the $2.2 million set aside to prosecute the fraud cases.
Since the money was raised through a mandatory assessment to employers in all counties with workers' compensation liability, the funds should have been allocated more equitably to each department, Bradbury said.
"Assessments to employers in most counties, such as Ventura, are being used to fund workers' compensation investigations and prosecution in larger and more densely populated counties," Bradbury said. "Consequently, most counties comparable in size to Ventura County and smaller are unable to participate."
Beverly Hunter, a program analyst for the state Department of Insurance, said the money was allocated largely according to need. Los Angeles County, she said, has the greatest number of workers' compensation fraud cases in the state.
"We had to determine where the greatest need was," Hunter said. "Everyone recognizes the funding level is too low. We had to choose how to best divide a pie that is too small to do the job."
She said that while Los Angeles County has 33% of the workers in the state, it accounts for 73% of the workers' compensation fraud cases. Ventura County, however, accounts for 1.93% of the state workers but only makes up .37% of the fraud cases, Hunter said.
So far, 20 counties have applied for the grant, she said. Of those applicants, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties have declined to participate in the fraud program because they said the funding was inadequate. Hunter said the smaller counties were usually offered between $20,000 and $25,000 to prosecute the cases for 18 months.
Colleen Toy White, Ventura county's assistant district attorney, said officials estimated that it would cost the county more than $200,000 to handle the cases. But, White said, Ventura officials decided to accept $30,000 if they could spend the money on a new computer system that would let them track the fraud cases more efficiently.
The state Department of Insurance responded by saying it would give Ventura County $22,507, but the money had to be used for prosecution.
"That would be less than 10% to hire an attorney, investigator and get equipment," White said. "We've already had significant budget cuts. We have a problem prosecuting the cases that impact public safety."