DELAWARE COUNTY — Michael L. Berridge, 56, a former Gallia County resident, was recently sentenced to 18 months in the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio, and ordered to pay $550,000 in restitution following the conviction of one count of theft, a fourth degree felony. Berridge is accused of taking advantage of longtime friend Tim Betz and using Betz’s Delaware County business, Workers Choice Health Services, Inc., to launder $1.2 million through his personal U.S. Bank account among other alleged fraudulent activities. Workers Choice originated in Gallipolis.
According to Delaware County court documents, Berridge plead guilty to a lesser charge. Upon release of serving 18 months in prison, Berridge will be under community control for three years.
This is not the first time Berridge has been in trouble for alleged fraudulant activity. On January 21, 1993, a federal grand jury returned a 21-count indictment against Berridge, charging him with bank fraud at Ohio Valley Bank and specific instances of misapplication or embezzlement, false statements on loan applications and misuse of a social security number. On August 9, 1993, the parties entered into an agreement in which Berridge consented to plead guilty to Counts 1 and 21.
Berridge was sentenced to 24 months in a federal corrections facility and was barred from continued employment in the banking industry during his probation.
However, according to an official statement by Betz, he hired Berridge in good faith. Believing in his innocence, he said in the statement that he wanted to give his longtime friend a second chance. An excerpt of Betz’s statement follows:
“Michael L. Berridge was my best friend for 25 years and whom I supported through his 1993 Federal bank fraud conviction and subsequent imprisonment. I believed his sincere assertion of innocence and because I cared for him and his family, I decided to give him a second chance. My wife and I bought a house for his family to live in rent-free while he was in jail for 18 months. While Mr. Berridge continued his sentence in a halfway house, I permitted him to come to work for Workers Choice. Over the years, the visionary company became successful in meeting the needs of injured workers and their employers, and I was able to employ 28 people.
Mr. Berridge was gradually entrusted to manage my company and hold that piece of my wife’s and my future. When I was hospitalized in 2007 for my first heart attack, it seemed logical to trust Mr. Berridge to make good business decisions on my behalf. I suffered two additional heart attacks and had a coronary bypass during the subsequent three years. During that time, I was assured by Mr. Berridge that Workers Choice was in good hands. I realized that the bond of trust was broken through revelations that employees shared with me and into which I began to investigate.
The entire magnitude of fraudulent activity committed by Mr. Berridge cannot be accurately calculated, but the damage has proved to be irreparable. Maybe worst of all is that I was not only betrayed by a close friend, my wife’s and my livelihood and retirement were deliberately stolen. No earthly court can remedy that injury. I believe, however, that the Delaware Court can contribute to justice in this case. With cold calculation and callous acts, Mr. Berridge ruined Workers Choice, which provided for not only my family, but also the families of 28 good people who have lost their jobs, benefits and retirement plans.”
Berridge’s wife, Kimberly, a former Mercerville resident, was found guilty of receiving stolen property and was sentenced to three years’ monitored community control and 120 hours community service. The judge recommended a second job be secured to assist with repayment of restitution. Kimberly Berridge had worked in the billing department of Workers Choice Health Services, Inc.