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Amputee learns he has no health insurance after employer neglected to pay bills

3 years 2 months 3 weeks ago Friday, March 26 2021 Mar 26, 2021 March 26, 2021 4:29 PM March 26, 2021 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - As the fallout continues to grow surrounding defaulted contractor Coastal Bridge, the WBRZ Investigative Unit is learning about more people who claim owner Kelly Sills stiffed them.

Luis Nieves-Rivera was hired by Coastal Bridge in April of 2019 as an operator. Things were going well until a freak accident on a rural stretch of road in Hammond sent him to the hospital.

"In November, I was riding on my motorcycle, and from what I was told I took a good spill," Nieves-Rivera said. "I ended up losing my leg, fracturing on my legs, ankles in and out of a coma.... medically flown to New Orleans."

After learning doctors could not save his leg, more devastating news came. Nieves-Rivera was told he had no health insurance.

"First, I was told Blue Cross Blue Shield would not pay the claim because my employer did not pay the premium," Nieves-Rivera said.

The WBRZ Investigative Unit obtained invoices from Nieves-Rivera's medical bills, which total hundreds of thousands of dollars. A pay stub he provided to the WBRZ Investigative Unit from around the time the crash occurred showed Coastal Bridge deducted his health insurance from his paycheck.

That money was never paid to Blue Cross, as Nieves-Rivera was told Coastal Bridge had not paid their health insurance.

A spokesperson from Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana confirmed that information, and said it was Coastal Bridge's responsibility to let the employees know that their insurance had lapsed.

"When an ERISA Plan terminates its service agreement with us, we no longer have the authority to communicate with the Plan's members, even though the ERISA Plan remains responsible for its promises to them," said Cindy Wakefield, Vice President of Strategic Communications of BCBSLA.

"I owe over $450,000 and under $500,000," Nieves-Rivera said.

We went looking for Kelly Sills at his office. Ironically, Sills was sitting at the front desk when we walked in. He turned around and looked at us, but quickly turned his head back to what he was doing.

Sills did not want to answer questions from the Investigative Unit about not paying his employees' health insurance.

In February, WBRZ revealed Coastal Bridge defaulted on a number of state projects and is accused of stiffing taxpayers to the tune of nearly $1 million.

The company invoiced DOTD for a State Police detail. It was responsible for paying State Police but did not.

Coastal Bridge was awarded the emergency repair contract to fix the Sunshine Bridge when a barge ran into it in 2018. Louisiana State Police had to work a 24/7 traffic detail on both sides of the bridge to prevent cars from going across.

Coastal Bridge sent DOTD three invoices totaling $880,860 for the LSP detail. DOTD said it paid Coastal Bridge for the work. Two years later, State Police confirmed to WBRZ those invoices are still outstanding.

Sills was arrested days after being exposed by the WBRZ Investigative Unit in Walt Disney World when he refused to comply with COVID guidelines. He was charged with trespassing.

"Mr. Kelly, I worked for you," Nieves-Rivera said. "I never missed a day, paid my premiums. You took them out. Now, this is what I get and the bills I have because of you."

Permanently disabled now, Nieves-Rivera is not blaming Sills for losing his leg, but he is blaming him for a string of bad debts he now has as a result of Sills not paying the health insurance he deducted from his check.

"He's committing fraud," Nieves-Rivera said. "He's stealing money."

The WBRZ Investigative Unit learned the FBI and the U.S. Department of Labor are both investigating.

The FBI issued the following statement: "The FBI is aware of the issue and takes allegations of federal law violations seriously. However, it is the policy of the FBI not to confirm or deny whether or not it is conducting an investigation."

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