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Court affirms postal worker’s fine for phony travel reimbursement

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The $46,000 fine and probation levied against a U.S. Postal Service worker convicted of lying about her workers compensation-related travel were upheld by an appellate court Thursday.

In United States v. Coffman, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans unanimously affirmed a jury decision convicting the worker of making false statements to obtain federal workers compensation benefits and theft of public money.

Lisa Yvette Coffman of Humble, Texas, was working as a mail carrier when she claimed that she injured her back in 2011 while lifting a package and applied for and received workers compensation benefits, which included reimbursement for travel to and from her doctor’s appointments.

Between November 2011 and May 2016, Ms. Coffman submitted travel reimbursement forms for over 95,000 miles. She received more than $48,000 in travel reimbursements, in many cases for nonexistent doctor’s appointments or for treatment unrelated to her back injury, investigators alleged.

In one 122-day period in 2016, she requested reimbursement for 327 appointments; her submission on one particular day stated that she drove nearly 400 miles to visit five different doctors.

In October 2016, Ms. Coffman was charged with making false statements to obtain federal workers compensation benefits and theft of public money. She was found guilty and sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay $46,000 in restitution. She appealed, arguing that the jury was prejudiced by inadmissible testimony.

Ms. Coffman contended that the testimony of a doctor who claimed that workers compensation claimants weren’t “the most honest people” unfairly prejudiced the jury. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the comment was not prejudicial and didn’t affect the outcome of the proceeding.