Oct. 4, 2012
A woman who received pension benefits after her father’s work-related death now stands charged with theft and forgery for continuing to receive benefits through fraud.
Heather L. Payne, 22, entered a not guilty plea in Thurston County Superior Court on Tuesday. She is charged with first-degree theft and forgery.
Until his death in 2001, Ms. Payne’s father received an L&I pension, due to a workplace injury that left him permanently disabled. Because she was a minor at the time, Ms. Payne was awarded orphan benefits.
When she turned 18, Ms. Payne was entitled to continued support as long as she remained a full-time student. L&I requires people in this situation to regularly submit paperwork verifying they are still in school in order to continue the benefits.
In October 2010, pension adjudicators noticed inconsistencies in the forms Ms. Payne had submitted. An investigator examined the forms and soon learned it had been faxed from a grocery store 275 miles away from the school listed.
School officials reported Ms. Payne had actually dropped out in early 2010.
In an interview, Ms. Payne admitted to forging a signature of an imaginary school official in order to continue receiving the pension benefits to which she was no longer entitled.
In the end, it appears Ms. Payne received seven months’ worth of benefits she should not have received, totaling $30,945.
L&I’s pension system, once called the Widows and Orphans Fund, is meant to help fill the financial gap left when the family breadwinner is gone. Of course, nothing can replace the loss of a loved one, which undoubtedly was a difficult experience for Ms. Payne.
The intent of the program, however, is for the funds to be available for dependents to attend school and improve their chances for success in life. Unfortunately, Ms. Payne sought to obtain benefits that were not justified — and that does a disservice to all those deserving dependents still out there.