Byung Sung Kang, 54, is scheduled for arraignment Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court on one count of first-degree theft.
The Lacey man is charged with stealing more than $21,000 in partial wage replacement payments from June 2018 through August 2019 from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.
L&I also reportedly paid out nearly $50,000 in medical bills, interpreter fees, vocational costs, and other benefits for Kang from June 2018 through March 2020.
An L&I investigation reportedly filmed Kang lifting heavy loads of clothing and doing other physical tasks at his shop during the same period he claimed his workplace injury was so severe that he spent his days resting at home.
“It’s unusual to bring fraud charges against business owners,” said Chris Bowe, assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards division. “That’s because most of the people receiving workers’ compensation benefits are workers. But we do investigate business owners if we receive reports of fraud.
Kang allegedly injured his back in the summer of 2015 while working at the dry cleaning business that he and his wife own, according to charging papers.
With a doctor’s assessment that he was too injured to work, Kang reportedly began receiving payments from L&I in late 2016 to replace part of his salary. In addition, Kang regularly submitted official forms stating he was unable to work due to his on-the-job injury.
L&I opened an investigation of Kang in 2019 after an internal search of state databases raised questions about him and his business, which charging papers said was called Century Cleaners at the time.
The investigation included numerous witness interviews and undercover surveillance of Kang at his shop on 32 days that year, charging papers said. The investigator filmed Kang loading and unloading washers and dryers, hanging and bundling clothes, lifting and carrying a table and bags of garbage, and serving customers.
Two of the customers – a Washington State Patrol trooper and delivery service owner – reportedly said they had seen Kang working at the shop since at least 2016.
The investigation found Kang was making misleading statements to medical providers, saying he was mostly watching TV at home.
On Oct. 14, 2019, an investigator filmed Kang working at the shop, then followed him to a medical exam, where the doctor wrote that Kang told him he had not worked since his 2015 injury, charging papers said. After the appointment, Kang drove back to his shop to resume work.
During an interview with the L&I investigator, Kang said he was minimally involved in his dry cleaning business, doing only light tasks and rarely helping customers.
L&I administers the state workers’ compensation insurance system, which helps injured workers heal and return to work.