Woman Ordered to Repay Wash. State $434,851

In the largest fraud order ever issued against an individual, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has ordered a 52-year-old Minnesota woman to repay the state $434,851 after an investigation determined she continued to collect workers’ compensation widow’s benefits long after she remarried.

Sharon Bernard, who was going by the name Sharon Keen, allegedly started collecting benefits in 1971 after her husband, Loren Bernard, was fatally injured while working as an apprentice maintenance mechanic in Tacoma. After her husband’s death, Bernard moved to Detroit Lakes, Minn., where she remarried a year later.

Keen’s marriage was discovered after she called the department to complain that she hadn’t received a check. When an L&I employee returned her call, a relative answered and said nobody by the name of Sharon Bernard lived there. During the conversation the relative said Bernard had remarried years earlier.

An investigation showed Bernard allegedly hid her remarriage from the department by submitting false information about her marital status in order to continue collecting widow’s benefits.

The order against Sharon Bernard-Keen reflects the amount of money she collected illegally in workers’ compensation benefits along with a 50 percent penalty.