James D. Coon, owner of James Coon Construction company in Akron, Ohio, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony, on July 24th. The charges came after Gerardo ‘Jerry’ Juarez Sr., one of his workers, fell to death while working without safety equipment in 2017. Coon’s attorney has not made any statements as of yet.
Additionally, Coon further pleaded guilty to a workers’ compensation fraud charge, a fourth-degree felony, in a Summit county courtroom. According to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s (BWC) findings, Coon, 53, did not have any BWC coverage whatsoever when Juarez died.
Moreover, Coon allegedly lied on multiple occasions to hide the precise nature of his business to avoid paying insurance premiums. The employee, Gerardo ‘Jerry’ Juarez Sr., aged 39, was on the second day of his job when the accident occurred. It was November 4th, 2017, and Juarez was working on a sloped roof on top of a three-story apartment building with no fall protection or any other safety equipment when he slipped and fell 25 feet.
Juarez died on the spot. The BWC was notified of the accident four days later by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. On further investigations by BWC, it was revealed that at least two employees under Coon Construction had been injured before Juarez’s death while working without safety equipment.
Coon reportedly had no BWC coverage during this time. Furthermore, BWC records showed that Coon had reported to the BWC that his business was no longer operational. However, just five months after Juarez’s death, in May 2018, BWC agents reportedly spotted six of Coon’s employees working at a site without any safety equipment or proper gear.
Coon continuously reported that he had no employees, according to records. However, an audit done by BWC showed something entirely different. Coon had nearly $286,000 under employee payroll during July 2009 and July 2018, sources indicate.
Coon’s case is an example of how employers commit workers’ compensation fraud to avoid paying premiums. Currently, Coon is liable to pay $303,152 to BWC in the account of outstanding premiums and cost of claims by workers who were injured during work due to lack of proper equipment and coverage. Coon’s plea agreement was entered on July 24th, under which further homicide and fraud charges were dropped
Christopher Parker, from Coon’s attorney’s office, has refused to comment until after the sentencing. Sentencing is scheduled for August 21st, according to court records. The BWC also reported that Coon could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for the third-degree felony involuntary manslaughter charges.
It is not known whether Juarez’s family intends to take legal action to seek compensation for their loss. Juarez left behind a wife and five children.
Similar to Coon’s case, another contractor in Toledo, Ohio was recently ordered to pay $57,000 in restitution and three years of probation for committing workers’ compensation fraud.
If you believe your employer or someone around you is involved in workers’ compensation fraud, or if you’ve been accused of workers’ compensation fraud, you should hire a lawyer. Contact us today to take the first steps towards the best possible legal outcome for you.