HAMMOND – More than two dozen members of the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters – three from La Porte County – will avoid prison time, but must pay restitution after pleading guilty to health care theft, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

According to court records, the 27 members of the carpenters union filed false medical claims, illegally requesting reimbursement of medical expenses from the union’s health care program.

All 27 union members pleaded guilty to one count of health care theft and were ordered to pay restitution to the union, according to federal prosecutors. The total amount ordered repaid was $531,422.68.

Among those pleading guilty were 44-year-old Trommel Walters Sr. of Michigan City; 55-year-old Dennis Gardner and 40-year-old Joshua Westfall of La Porte; and 46-year-old Jeremy Ryba of Walkerton.

“Both the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General and Employee Benefit and Security Administration take health care fraud seriously," U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch said. "To be able to have restitution ordered in excess of $500,000 greatly enhances the reliability of these plans.”

“We will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefit and Security Administration and our law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of employee benefit plans,” said James Vanderberg, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago Region of U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General.

Porter County residents pleading guilty were: Joshua Zale, 29, of Chesterton; Bradley Crostreet, 48, William Gramhofer IV, 35, Eric Murray, 40, Ryan Valentine, 41, and Thomas Zale, 53, all of Valparaiso; Edgar Hilzley, 39, of Portage; and Brian Clare, 41, and Derek Lamprecht, 35, both of Hebron.

Pleading guilty from Lake County were Michael Broviak, 60, and Ryan Cundiff, 42, both of Crown Point; John Considine Jr., 38, Brian Ellis, 48, and Daniel Rehfeldt, 51, all of Hobart; Thomas Drutis, 61, of Highland; Robert Gutierrez of Demotte; Luka Kljajic, 58, of Griffith; Christopher LeBell, 38, of Cedar Lake; Justin Lindner, 34, of Lake Village; Eric Sampias, 41, of Lowell; and Darrell Smith, 50, and Aaron Vaughan, 27, both of Lake Station. Also pleading was Kenneth Tolson, 44, of Monterey.

All are members of Local 1485 in La Porte, Local 1005 in Merrillville, or Local 599 in Hammond.

“The Employee Benefits Security Administration will continue to investigate such crimes aggressively on behalf of workers nationwide as part of the department’s mission to protect the rights of America’s workers,” EBSA Chicago Regional Director Jeffrey Monhart said.

The Regional Council of Carpenters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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