Feds Use Video Surveillance to Catch Fraud for Workers' Comp

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Byline: Jim McElhatton, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. Thecouple 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. …