An Oklahoma-based drug rehabilitation program called Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery has been accused of stealing its participants workers’ compensation claims.
A former participant in the program, Fred Barbee, had his story published early in the week.
Barbee was sent by a ‘drug court judge’ in Tulsa, OK, to a rehabilitation program – Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR) – ostensibly to heal himself through profitless labor.
CAAIR requires its participants to work without pay at regional plants owned by Simmons, Inc. Barbee was assigned to duty at a chicken processing facility in Arkansas.
When he broke his ankle on the job, Barbee requested time off to recuperate.
Rather than tolerate what seems to be a reasonable request, CAAIR removed the man from the program, and then filed a workers’ compensation claim on his behalf.
The injury was medically significant enough to warrant a $7,100 payout – a payout which was then quietly pocketed by CAAIR.
Reveal – from The Center for Investigative Reporting – notes that workers’ comp claims are always supposed to make their way to injured employees. Nevertheless, CAAIR was ready to admit that it engages in such practices as a matter of policy.
“That’s the way it works,” said Janet Wilkerson, one of CAAIR’s founders.
Wilkerson said that she keeps workers’ compensation claims to pay for program’s food, housing and counseling costs.
“Yes, we did keep that,” she said. “Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s what happened.”
Reveal relays what experts on workers’ comp had to say – that not only what CAAIR had done is wrong, but it’s almost certainly illegal.
“If they [the workers] never received those benefits, that is insurance fraud,” said Philip Hood, commissioner of the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission. Hood has opened an investigation into CAAIR as a response to Reveal’s reporting.
“This sounds like something from the early 1900s. And this is going on right now? And how is it legal?” he asked. “Them being ordered to work for free is nothing short of slavery.”
According to Reveal, many other men who have had their compensation claims pocketed by CAAIR may never have known they were entitled to receive payouts – in part because the program requires them to sign forms saying that they’re clients, not employees, and therefore have no right to be compensated for injury.
Three years after hurting his ankle at a Simmons, Inc., facility, Fred Barbee still walks with a limp.
CAAIR had continued pocketing his workers’ compensation payments for four continuous months, later telling its own insurance provider that Barbee had returned to work, though he never did.