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A Montana man who was videotaped lifting furniture and playing golf while collecting workers compensation benefits pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal theft and will have to pay back nearly $27,500, according to a statement issued Thursday by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.
David Howke of Whitefish, Montana, worked for Big Fork, Montana-based construction contractor Aeneas Enterprises Ltd. in December 2012 when he injured his back while lifting concrete forms. The employer initially questioned the origin of the injury because it noted Mr. Howke also worked a side job on a farm on the weekends, but the claim was accepted by the Montana State Fund, workers comp insurer of last resort, according to the charging documents.
Mr. Howke received medical benefits and bi-weekly temporary total disability payments of $822 totaling $27,478.23 from April 2013 through March 2015, according to the statement.
In November 2014, the fraud coordinator at the Montana State Fund received a confidential fraud tip that alleged Mr. Howke was working and frequently playing golf while collecting workers comp benefits. The coordinator forwarded the information to the Montana Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, which conducted interviews with several people who indicated they hired Mr. Howke to perform construction and remodeling jobs in exchange for cash and goods during the time he was collecting comp benefits, according to the charging documents.
In addition, the department of justice hired investigators to provide surveillance of Mr. Howke, which produced videos of him shoveling snow, lifting furniture and playing golf, the charging documents said.
Mr. Howke pleaded guilty to the felony charge of theft in Montana District Court Wednesday and was given a five-year suspended sentence and ordered to repay the workers comp benefits he collected, according to the statement.
“Workers compensation fraud is a drain on Montana businesses, and anytime we can mitigate this deceitful behavior, we’re reducing upward pressure on the costs shouldered by businesses in our state,” said Mr. Fox in the statement.
A Tennessee woman has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a $5.9 million workers compensation scheme that involved collecting premiums for nonexistent comp policies.