- Kerry warns of ‘very serious’ response to Crimea-Russia alliance
- Fla. Rep. Alan Grayson’s wife drops restraining order against him
- McDonald’s lawsuits filed over wages ‘stolen’ like Hamburglar steals Big Macs
- HUMPHRIES: Fight like a Democrat – An open letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell
- Florida board member shocks with ‘Heil Hitler’ salute at town meeting
- Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews inducted into Irish America Hall of Fame
- Military given ‘execute order’ by Obama for secret cyber mission in June
- College group’s diversity event canceled after excluding white people
- Cops: 2 shoot up heroin as kids play at McDonald’s
- Drug charges against husband of Va. daycare owner
Feds use video surveillance to catch fraud for workers’ comp
The husband and wife postal workers at a North Carolina mail-sorting plant were out of work and collecting disability benefits when they first came under surveillance.
Acting on an anonymous tip, agents with the U.S. Postal Service's Office of Inspector General went undercover for two months. They used video cameras to document the activities of the couple, who had claimed they could not work because sitting more than 15 minutes caused pain and swelling, records show.
The agents followed the husband and wife either alone or together driving, gambling and mowing the lawn, among other activities. The couple faced criminal charges and, after a three-day trial in January, convictions for crimes involving workers’ compensation benefits.
The case wasn’t unusual. The Postal Service inspector general is one of a handful of investigative agencies whose use of video surveillance to target disability fraud was singled out in a recent congressional report. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, disclosed the surveillance practices as part of a broader review of workers’ compensation fraud controls at a half-dozen agencies across government.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an internal affairs unit to review potential fraud and make referrals to investigators, who in turn conduct video surveillance, according to the GAO.
The GAO also said the Air Force plans to hire staff early in fiscal 2012 to perform background checks and conduct surveillance to make sure recipients are entitled to benefits. And a recent Navy investigation noted in the same report how one workers’ compensation recipient was “an active owner of a gentleman’s club” while fraudulently collecting disability benefits.
Still, the GAO also found that agencies face challenges investigating and prosecuting such cases. For one thing, so-called “targeted investigations” can be costly and resource-intensive, the GAO said. What’s more, the “limited resources” of some federal prosecutors make it hard to bring fraud cases involving less than $100,000, the Postal Service inspector general’s office told the GAO.
Other Defense Department investigative agencies, meanwhile, told congressional investigators that they don’t normally invest resources to investigate workers’ compensation fraud, citing higher priority areas such as violent crime and anti-terrorism.
Still, successful cases “can help deter future fraud and ultimately save money,” the GAO found.
In another case, which the Postal Service’s inspector general cited recently in a separate report to Congress, agents used video surveillance to investigate a former postal custodian in Bell, Calif., who was collecting workers’ compensation while doing home improvement projects and loading plywood onto a truck.
A Michigan letter carrier collecting workers’ compensation was seen regularly exercising at the local YMCA “where she was observed bending, twisting, weightlifting and performing various activities beyond her stated disabilities,” according to an inspector general report.
And in Pennsylvania, a letter carrier pleaded guilty in June in yet another workers’ compensation case. The employee picked up heavy boxes and sacks of asphalt, officials said. Out of work since 1994 because of a back injury, the employee had worked in the auto shop for five years, according to investigators.
Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt University professor and privacy analyst, said government agents should be free to observe a suspect in public places as long as they have a good reason.
“If the government is going to try to prevent fraudulent behavior, then it has to be able to to investigate potential fraud … so long as the government has some reason to suspect that behavior and the surveillance is a public activity,” he said.
But he said government agencies shouldn’t dispatch surveillance investigators to conduct random spot checks of workers’ compensation recipients.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Jim McElhatton is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 'Compromised' keys cost Treasury Department big bucks
- Thompson plea raises questions about his old accounting firm
- Judge dismisses KBR's attempt to divert legal bills on sickened troops in Iraq to taxpayers
- Bill Clinton cashes in on struggling nonprofit hospital
- Fate of Alex Cho, cooperator in bribery case, uncertain after Justice Department reneges on promises
Latest Blog Entries
TWT Video Picks
By Emily Miller
Obama is losing the debate on gun ownership, concealed-carry permits
- USS Kidd sent to Indian Ocean after 'indication' of Malaysian jet crash
- Oil rig worker says he saw missing plane go down: report
- F-35 secrets now showing up in Chinas stealth fighter
- Cops: 2 shoot up heroin as kids play at McDonald's
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- MILLER: Law enforcement realizes good people with guns deter crime
- Details on ships, planes searching for missing jet
- GOP bill tries to pull courts into fight with Obama on executive power, enforcing laws
- College group's diversity event canceled after excluding white people
- NRA shirt gets N.Y. high school student suspended
Chaos as Manhattan building explodes
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again