Worker’s Compensation Fraudsters Caught Faking Injuries
“20/20” is on the case tonight. Looking out for moochers taking money out of your wallet. You’re about to see it.
A woman and man, with injuries they say keep them from working until the cameras tell us something else. Cecilia Vega has this story. Reporter: Beauty contestant Shawna palmer appears poised to take home the crown with her bikini-ready body, winning smile and legs that go for miles.
In April, palmer strutted her stuff on a stage in Long Beach, California, hoping to become the next miss Toyota grand prix. One more time for Shawna! Reporter: But put on the brakes!
Can you spot the major foot injury that supposedly kept this contestant from being able to do her day job? Palmer claimed she hurt her left big toe working as a supermarket clerk. She said the painful injury left her with, quote, “An inability to bear weight” on her foot.
But shortly after going to the doctor, prosecutors say she apparently had no problem working it — in a pair of pumps, no less! Insurance investigators arrested palmer on charges of illegally collecting workers compensation benefits totaling over $24,000. She did not lie, whatsoever, regarding her foot injury.
Reporter: She pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of fraud. Yes, your honor. Reporter: Why should we care?
That causes premiums to rise. John and Joe public pay those prices. Reporter: You might think suspected offenders of false claims would want to avoid the spotlight.
Meet Leroy Barnes, a professional dancer who claimed total disability after getting hurt on a gig. ? yet investigators say he’s right here, shaking his tail as one of those dancing hamsters in the Kia car commercials.
Barnes stands accused of fraudulently collecting over $50,000 in disability. For now, this hamster’s out of his cage. He pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.
Then there’s the curious case of Dan slewoski, a chicago-area man who said he was unable to perform his job at the department of public works due to a nerve condition. Are you ready? Reporter: But city investigators say he had the nerve to perform in an extreme wrestling tournament, doing his best hulk hogan, climbing the ropes and fake-pummeling some poor SAP, all while on government-paid medical leave.
Slewoski might look menacing in that ring, but he hid behind his door while answering questions from ABC’s I-team in Chicago. What do you do? I talk into a microphone.
I have no training. I am not a pro wrestler. Reporter: He’s also no longer employed by the department of public works.
He resigned last June. But would you believe someone hired to protect and serve could also be scamming the system? Hey, I’m Cecilia Vega from “20/20.
” Last winter I had to chase down one in a group of New York City cops accused of faking PTSD and anxiety symptoms brought on by 9/11. The prosecutors are saying you’re essentially a cop who scammed the system. That’s not — I’m not a cop.
You were a cop, at one point. Reporter: Vincent Lamantia’s case stood out to investigators because after claiming disability, he brazenly flaunted pictures of himself on Facebook looking like he was living large. Why don’t you give me a quick comment and we’ll get out of your hair.
As you can see, my hair is long and you’re in it. Reporter: Well this fall, there’s a different case involving a cop. New York port authority police officer Christopher Inserra was collecting almost $70,000 in disability for a painful, on-the-job bicep and elbow injury that supposedly gave him, quote, “Limited mobility.
” But wait. Who’s that headbanger? It’s our cop fronting a heavy metal band called cousin sleaze of all things, flailing his arms and flexing those muscles.
The hunky metalhead has since pleaded guilty to mail fraud and turned in his badge. Rocker, wrestler, beauty queen and dancing hamster didn’t exactly make it difficult for investigators to find them. After all, they’re hiding in plain sight.
But in most cases, the suspects are pretty coy. So when there’s someone mooching in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Our duo, the moocher busting P.
I. S, Bari and bob, who love the thrill of the chase. That’s our guy right there.
That’s our mark! Reporter: Bari Kroll is part suburban soccer mom, part professional moocher-hunter. And a master of disguise.
The secret to some of my success is being a woman. It’s still pretty uncommon for people to think women are private investigators. Reporter: She’s also not afraid to use her own kid as a decoy.
It was great having that car seat in the back. It was a great prop. Perfect.
Reporter: Bari gets hired by insurance companies to check up on people like this man. She says her client told her the man claimed a limited range of motion in his right knee, and was in constant pain. But here he is, biking all over town.
The man’s claim was dismissed. But Bari says these cases aren’t always a full bust. Sometimes they’re a dead end.
It’s a glamorous job. You sit here and just stare out the window. This job isn’t for everyone.
But it is for me, because I’m okay waiting for something to happen. Reporter: There’s the sitting-in-your-car approach, and then there’s this. There’s a big tree on the left.
I think that’s where we should all meet. Reporter: Catching potential fraudsters is no mission impossible for chicago-based P. I.
And ABC news consultant bob Kiehn. In his downtime, bob likes to skydive and swim with sharks, so it’s only fitting that he plans his surveillance stakeouts like an adrenaline-fueled military operation. Bob invited “20/20” along as observers on a surveillance job deep in midwest farm country at the crack of dawn.
Let’s go, bob, go do this! Reporter: The mission — to get the goods on a farmer suspected of fleecing an insurance company. He claims injuries from a car accident are causing him difficulty with his daily farming operation.
So the money shot is what? Anything he does that makes him look like he’s working. Reporter: Since we’re out in the bush, this job calls for some black ops.
Can I just say, this seems a little hardcore here. Is this necessary? Here’s the exact reason why we do this.
We’re completely getting into the elements, to where there’s no way they’re going to be able to see us. They’re going to act completely Normal, hopefully, and we’ll capture everything they do on tape. Let’s go.
Reporter: I find myself wading through the woods in 40 degree temps. Don’t put your foot there! Reporter: We pick our way over treacherous ground — and clamber up steep muddy embankments.
Put your right foot up here. Go. Reporter: Until we reach our surveillance point.
So this is the house we’re going to be watching. We’ve literally walked for about a mile plus in the dark. This is where we’re going to set up.
We have a perfect view of his house. Reporter: It takes four hours, but bob finally spies that supposedly injured farmer lifting an object into his truck. We can’t show his face because the case is still active.
It hardly feels like enough to call the farmer a fraud, but bob says the path to catching a moocher isn’t always paved in gold. Sometimes it’s caked with mud. So did you get what you came for?
We got a start. It’s something for us to start building a case on. Reporter: The case has yet to be resolved and I have yet to thaw out.
Despite the tireless efforts of P. I. S like Bari and bob, countless people each year keep trying to make an easy buck by faking an injury.
But our moocher-busting private eyes will be there, waiting behind the curtain and running through the cornfields to get their marks. You’ve got all this gear, head to toe camo, this seems like a lot of effort. You have to have a creative solution