Business

Puyallup man took $366,000, L&I says

C.R. Roberts

Staff writer

A Puyallup man has been charged with taking $366,000 from the state in fraudulent workers' compensation claims.

    Christopher Robin Briejer was arraigned in Pierce County Superior Court on Thursday on state charges that he misrepresented claims to the state Department of Labor and Industries.

    The state contends that between January 2004 and April 2008, Briejer received 121 state checks totaling $258,995 for time-loss compensation, $75,295 in medical services and $31,651 in vocational retraining - for a total of nearly $366,000.

    Briejer, who climbed Mount Rainier last year, pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. He is not yet represented by an attorney.

    In a phone conversation, Briejer on Thursday denied the charges.

    "They've been harassing me for years," he said of L&I investigators. "They took every check they sent me, every payment, and made that a theft charge.

    "Their claims are wrong."

    Briejer first claimed compensation following an injury in early 2000, the state said in its court filing, and he refiled the claim four years later. Briejer, the state says, suffered a subsequent injury - whereas Briejer said his worsened condition was due to the original injury, suffered when under the state's insurance umbrella.

    The department "stopped benefit payments after an investigation determined that Briejer had suffered an unrelated injury in October 2003. At the time, he was self-employed and not paying for workers' compensation insurance," L&I said in a news release Friday.

    Each count against Briejer carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The court could also order him to repay the $366,000 in benefits collected illegally, if the charges are proved.

    A retired carpenter currently subsisting on state DSHS payments - the L&I payments have stopped - Briejer said, "I have a permanent back injury with permanent damage to my spine."

    The charging documents mention "Briejer's activities such as mountain climbing and 'rock crawling.' "

    He said he attempts to keep himself in good physical condition. In his 40s, Briejer last climbed Mount Rainier in 2008, he said.

    "It doesn't take a back to climb a mountain, it takes legs," he said. "I'm an active injured person. Even though I'm injured, I take care of my body. My doctors are 100 percent in favor of me hiking."

    L&I began investigating Briejer based on an anonymous tip on its fraud Web site, www.fraud.lni.wa.gov. Anyone who suspects fraud can also call L&I's fraud hot line at 1-888-811-5974.

    "The information from the public was vital to our investigation," said Carl Hammersburg, manager of L&I's Fraud Prevention and Compliance Program, in a news release. "Reporting your suspicions about fraud helps protect legitimate employers and their injured workers who really deserve benefits."

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