State briefs

Man charged in workers’ compensation fraud case

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Utah man is facing charges in Laramie County District Court alleging he defrauded the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services out of more than $62,500.

Michael Pittman faces two charges of making false statements after investigators from the Department of Workforce Services accused Pittman of forcing his employees in Utah to file workers’ compensation claims under a fake address in Wyoming.

If convicted, Pittman could spend a maximum of 20 years in prison and/or be required to pay a $20,000 fine.

According to court documents, in July 2015, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Special Investigation Unit received information from the Utah Department of Insurance with suspicions that Pittman could be connected to false compensation claims being filed in Wyoming.

The information contained allegations Pittman could be engaging in “premium avoidance” for various roofing companies he created in Wyoming and Utah.

On July 11, 2014, one of Pittman’s employees filed a claim saying he fell from a roof in Torrington while working for Weatherguard Roofing LLC. The man stated he lived in Wyoming.

Further investigation revealed the man lived in Utah, not Wyoming.

The man told investigators Pittman told him to file the claim in Wyoming and use a false address.

As a result of that claim, the Department of Workforce Services paid $41,579.59.

On Dec. 17, 2014, another man working for Pittman filed a claim in Wyoming for an injury that occurred in Park City, Utah. The man claimed he lived at the Torrington address. He was actually a Utah resident.

Text messages provided by the second man show that Pittman had directed another employee to tell the man to file the claim with the state of Wyoming.

The employee told investigators that Pittman threatened to withhold employee wages if they didn’t file the claims in Wyoming.

Report warns of undercount in census

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Approximately 4,000 Wyoming children under the age of 5 could be overlooked in the upcoming 2020 census according to a report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation this week.

Samin Dadelahi, CEO of the Wyoming Community Foundation, which partnered with the Annie E. Casey Foundation on the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, said the report estimates 9 percent of children under the age of 5 in Wyoming could be undercounted in the 2020 census due to insufficient preparation. Because the census is only taken once every 10 years, Dadelahi said achieving an accurate picture of the state’s population in 2020 is critically important.

“That data is used for planning purposes,” Dadelahi said. “So, when we look at estimates on new schools or we look at estimates on child care facilities and expectations over the next few years in terms of what we need to adequately prepare ourselves for children and families, those are the counts we will be using.”

Several factors could contribute to the undercounting of people in the state, but a chief concern is reaching all of the rural populations throughout the state. Dadelahi said historically those populations have been more difficult to count.

“You have to make sure you hire enough people and you’re getting out there, on foot, to make sure that you get an accurate census,” Dadelahi said.

In Wyoming, past censuses have struggled to fully account for populations in Sweetwater County, Freemont County and Sublette County.

There have also been discussions about using digitized forms to collect census data, which Dadelahi said could exclude rural populations that either do not have digital access or are not aware of the digital forms.

Group collecting signatures in effort to curb political spending

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A group of Wyoming residents hoping to reverse the effects of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court campaign finance case is still hoping to acquire enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot.

Representatives from Wyoming Promise visited Washington, D.C., last week for a conference with other states pushing for the same or a similar ballot initiative and a meeting with the Wyoming congressional delegation.

The group, which wants to change how money influences politics, has collected about 12,000 of the necessary 38,818 verified signatures to put an initiative on the ballot for Wyoming voters, Wyoming Promise Chairman Ken Chestek said Friday.

Wyoming Promise, an offshoot of the national organization American Promise, is calling for a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would effectively nullify a case colloquially known as Citizens United – a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed nonprofits, corporations, labor unions and associations to spend unlimited money on political campaigns.

Many say the ruling has prompted the rise of what some call “dark money,” which often comes in the form of “political action committees,” or PACs.

PACs often create advertisements, mailers or other supportive material for a candidate, and those organizations don’t have to disclose who is funding them or how much money they have.

But in order to put language on the ballot that could potentially limit the influence of those groups, Wyoming Promise needs to collect a lot more signatures.

Chestek said he estimates the group has more than 12,000 signatures, but volunteers have only verified that many. Chestek estimated the group is about halfway to meeting its goal.

“We’re getting close to halfway done, but halfway is not all the way there,” Chestek said.