'Ax Men' logger from Washington accused of theft for L&I claims

Staff writerFebruary 15, 2011 

— OLYMPIA - A man who has appeared on the History Channel's reality TV show "Ax Men" pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court to two counts of first-degree theft and 15 counts of second-degree theft for allegedly working while he was receiving permanent disability payments from the state Department of Labor and Industries.

James Frank Smith, 54, of Roslyn – a small town about 85 miles east of Seattle – was released on his own recognizance after a hearing before Judge Gary Tabor. L&I investigators learned in March 2009 that Smith was working as a logger in Florida and appearing on the show while receiving monthly payments and medical benefits, court papers state.

According to court papers:

Since April 2007, Smith has received more than $50,000 in L&I time-loss and pension benefits after submitting two injury claims, one in 1993 and another in 1996. He also was paid for his appearances on “Ax Men” and didn’t tell L&I about the job.

L&I learned that Smith owns S&S Aqua Logging in Florida; it was established in April 2007.

Smith was featured in season two of “Ax Men,” which was filmed in October and November 2008 and aired in March 2009. He also appeared in episodes of seasons three and four of the show.

A synopsis on the show’s website includes this description of Smith’s activities:

“Florida’s Suwannee River can be a scary place … just ask anyone who’s crossed paths with Jimmy Smith,” it reads. “Jimmy’s a piece of work – prone to outbursts, temper tantrums and walk-offs – but behind the emotional rollercoaster is a man who wants his son to be able to look up to him.”

It continues: “Last year, Jimmy and son James left the comforts of Washington and headed to Florida. … But turning a profit proved difficult for the pair from Washington … especially when a 10-foot alligator made Jimmy his own target. After months of setbacks and disappointment, Jimmy returned to Washington with a $750 check and without his son. Jimmy Jr. decided to stay behind and take a place on Collins’ permanent team.”

An orthopedic surgeon who watched Smith on “Ax Men” on L&I’s behalf stated, “Mr. Smith is capable of doing remarkable things: retrieving logs, running a boat, running a tractor. There appears to be no disability or impairments at all of the shoulders, neck, back, or any other portions of the extremities.”

An L&I investigator who watched the episodes featuring Smith “observed Mr. Smith clothed in a diving ‘wet suit,’ donning self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), moving from a vessel into the water and working underwater to place ‘chokers’ around submerged cut logs,” court papers state.

Also according to court papers:

The investigator then watched as Smith “removed the diving equipment and used heavy equipment to pull logs from the river. Mr. Smith appeared to exceed the limitations of his physical abilities as being (on) a ‘sedentary’ work level.”

In October 1993, Smith filed a workers’ compensation claim with L&I stating that he had injured his left knee while working at Schneider Construction. He filed a secondary claim in 1996, alleging that while working for Beck Petroleum, “he injured his right leg, tibia, shoulder and back.” He was placed on L&I pension Dec. 16, 2010.

L&I awarded Smith time-loss benefits totaling $21,277.13 from April 1, 2007, to Dec. 15, 2007. It also awarded him pension benefits from Dec. 16, 2007, to March 15, 2009, totaling $29,603.29.

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office filed the charges against Smith in late January. The prosecutor could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 jpawloski@theolympian.com

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service