Suspect in fraud case has lawyers to spare

October 26, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

On the morning of May 22, with far too much time on his hands, Duncan Eric Watkins walked to a law office on Park Avenue and declared he'd been injured on the job. "What job?"

"What job?" an attorney asked.

"At the nursing home," said Watkins.

"Oh," declared the attorney.

And, just like that, according to state investigators, papers were filled out saying that Watkins, 35, had been injured while working at the Seton Hill Manor Nursing Home on West Franklin Street, that he would be incapacitated for a while, and that he would be needing workers' compensation benefits until fully healed.

Wonderful.

When he saw what he had done, Watkins liked it so much that he did a remarkable thing: He did it all over again.

Filling his lungs with fresh air, he marched out of the Park Avenue office and went directly to another law office, this one in the Equitable Building, where he presented the same story to a brand new attorney. He said he'd been working at the Seton Hill Manor Nursing Home, and that he'd been injured three days earlier and, since he could no longer work, he wanted to fill out a claim with the Workers' Compensation Commission.

"Certainly," said the attorney, doing no further investigation.

And, when Watkins saw what he had done this time, he liked it so much that he did it again.

He went to an attorney on Calvert Street this time, where he once again filled out workers' compensation papers with an attorney happy to take him at his word. And then, as he marched out the door, Watkins got an idea.

Same one.

So off he went again -- over the course of a couple of weeks in May and June, hitting 14 attorneys, telling some of them he'd been injured at his Seton Hill Manor Nursing Home job and telling others that he'd been injured at his job at the Inns of the Evergreen, (now called Evergreen Nursing and Rehab Center) on Belvedere Avenue.

And here, aside from the apparent mass production legal maneuvering state investigators say he was attempting, and the slight changes he sometimes made in his name as he moved from one law office to another, not to mention the slight changes in his Social Security number and in dates in which these accidents allegedly happened, Watkins began to get himself into some confusion, to wit:

a) Seton Hill says he hasn't worked there in the past six years.

b) Inns of the Evergreen says he never worked there.

And this is why, as Duncan Eric Watkins (aka Duncan Smith, aka E. W. Duncan, etc.) awaits various workers' compensation checks in multiples of 14, the Maryland Insurance Administration's Fraud Division has issued a warrant for his arrest, charging him with attempting to steal money and benefits from the Injured Workers Insurance Fund.

In fact, the warrant was issued several weeks ago. But, things being how they are, Watkins hasn't actually been found at any known address.

"I don't know how he thought he'd pull it off," says Maryland State Police Cpl. William Bokel, investigator in the case. "I guess he thought the initial payments would be sent out before there was a firm review, and he'd pump as many claims while he could. But they're all bogus."

This, of course, doesn't even begin to address the actions of the various law firms which, in their eagerness to be helpful (and make a few bucks) simply took him at his word and never bothered to check with the firms against whom Watkins was filing claims.

"He's a small-time fellow looking for a pot of gold," says Bokel, who has seen variations on such a theme in the past.

"We've had people," he says, "who went to three or four attorneys in a day. They've said, 'Hey, I was just shopping for the best rate. I never signed anything.' And, sure enough, they hadn't. But this guy signed everything he could get his hands on."

The papers happened to land with the Injured Workers Insurance Fund, which insures Seton Hill and Evergreen. At Seton Hill, the personnel office says Watkins hasn't worked there since 1989, and Evergreen says they've never heard of him.

"Some other insurer," said Bokel, "they might not have caught it so quickly. He might have gotten some benefits. These people worked very quickly."

Bokel said he's hoping Watkins will turn himself in. With 14 criminal charges against him, Watkins will have to find an attorney to defend him.

This shouldn't be too hard. In the course of his travels, he seems to have met plenty of them already.

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