Teacher pleads guilty to defrauding W.Va. PEIA

MGN Online
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BELLE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A teacher at Riverside High School will be sentenced for defrauding the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Thomas Watkins, 60, of Mount Carbon, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of engaging in a scheme to defraud the PEIA, a felony.

Investigators say Watkins did not tell the PEIA about his divorce in June of 2006, keeping his ex-wife on his insurance for about ten years.

According to the plea statement, Watkins "affirmatively stated' to PEIA and the school district in 2010 and 2011 that he was still married.

During that time, the ex-wife was not eligible for PEIA benefits. Investigators say her coverage should have ended June 30, 2006. However, she would have still been eligible for COBRA benefits for up to three years, independent of Watkins' coverage.

Watkins took a plea deal. In exchange for pleading guilty to the first charge, prosecutors dismissed the second count relating to defrauding Kanawha County Schools.

The teacher was given probation for five years. The state recommended probation. He will also be required to pay approximately $60,000 in restitution to the PEIA and Kanawha County Schools.

"There are over 600 present and former PEIA-covered employees, both in West Virginia and outside of West Virginia, who have failed to inform the PEIA of eligibility changes as required by the PEIA plan and the law," said Prosecutor Chuck Miller. "The failure to disclose eligibility changes is a criminal act which can have long-term consequences."

Miller said this is the third case statewide and the second case in Kanawha County in which they prosecuted former public employees and public employee beneficiaries for defrauding the PEIA or employers.

Those potential consequences include a felony conviction, temporary loss of the right to vote in elections, loss of pension benefits, prison time, and forfeiture of money paid into the Consolidated Public Employees Pension funds, according to the prosecutor's office.

"Those consequences are life-changing," Miller said.

The prosecutor added that, "Additional cases statewide may be coming down the pipeline."