AKRON, Ohio -- A local businesswoman was caught on hidden camera cheating the system and was ordered to pay what the head of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation calls, “a staggering amount of money she was never entitled to receive.”
State investigators shot undercover video of Bernice Stephens-Miller operating a women's clothing store in Akron. They then used it as evidence to prove Stephens-Miller has been breaking the law.
Investigators say Stephens-Miller was working and collecting permanent disability payments as the result of back and leg injuries she suffered while working at the former Ohio Edison in 1976. An undercover agent with the Bureau of Workers’ Comp told the Fox 8 I-Team, "she was working, having a full time job...you can't work in any capacity, full time, part time, or volunteer."
The I-Team caught up with Bernice Stephens-Miller at her home and asked her about her disability claim. She said she was injured in 1976 when she fell through the floor at Ohio Edison. Yet, the undercover video shows Stephens-Miller talking to the undercover agents about the clothing store, quoting prices and discussing buying trips to purchase clothes.
Stephens-Miller is what state investigators call a "triple dipper." On top of whatever she makes from her business ventures, records indicate that over a 12-year period, she collected more than $88,000 from Ohio's Disabled Worker Relief Fund, $18,000 in Social Security benefits and more than $63,000 in payments from her former employer for a total of nearly $170,000.
Stephens-Miller said she was not familiar with the term "triple dipper" when the I-Team approached her. We explained it meant that she had been working and receiving benefits from three different sources. Stephens-Miller replied, "I never worked, so that's a lie, that's a lie, I have not been working."
However, the hidden camera investigation by the BWC found ample evidence that her old injury does not prevent Stephens-Miller from making money.
One of the undercover agents told Fox 8 that Stephens-Miller went on buying trips to
Las Vegas, New York and Chicago to purchase clothes at wholesale prices then have them shipped back.
Despite the video, Stephens-Miller refused to admit that she was working at the store, saying “ I never worked for any money or anything."
But she does concede that the shop is owned by her husband, Donald Miller.
He told us, "I own the store, now what happened before that, I don't know."
When asked if his wife had been triple-dipping, Miller said, "yeah, no, no, no, I mean as long as I've been married to her, she never did none of that stuff."
Agents said Stephens-Miller got away with triple dipping for years until someone alerted the Bureau of Workers’ Comp that she was cheating the system.
“I know some people who have been hurt on the job, and they were not able to get benefits.They were truly hurt, and when I see people like Bernice, you know, it's very upsetting when you know someone who deserves it and can't get it. She doesn't deserve it and she has gotten it," said one of the agents.
When the I-Team asked Stephens-Miller for her reaction to the state's claims, she said “the state is telling a lie, I have never owned a business."
After watching the undercover video and listening to the testimony of the undercover state agents, a federal jury found Bernice Stephens-Miller guilty in December 2012 of the theft of public funds, making a false statement and mail fraud. In March, a federal judge sentenced Stephens-Miller to 10 months in prison and ordered her to pay the state of Ohio $88,000 in restitution.
When asked about the prospect of going to prison, Stephens-Miller said, “hey, if they want to send me to prison for nothing, I can't do anything with the justice system here."
Stephens-Miller is now appealing her conviction.