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A former postal worker received hundreds of thousands of dollars in disability benefits for about a decade after reporting a work-related back injury, prosecutors said.
But during those years, the man was caught traveling, fishing and weightlifting despite “allegations of a debilitating injury”, prosecutors said.
Now he is going to jail.
George Utley was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to receiving stolen government property, “specifically Department of Labor disability benefit payments”, according to a press release from the office of the United States Attorney for the Intermediate District of Florida.
Between January 2009 and March 2019, the 56-year-old Army veteran received more than $732,000 in benefits by misrepresenting his medical condition and other sources of income, prosecutors said.
Utley’s defense attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on May 24.
The Department of Labor is offering compensation such as medical payments and lost wages to employees injured on the job, according to court documents.
Claimants can submit a claim for benefits by providing medical evidence to support their work-related injury, prosecutors said. The program then requires employees with disabilities to regularly report any changes in their medical condition and any new sources of income or employment.
Utley began receiving benefits in January 2009 after reporting a back injury that occurred while working as a mail handler at a United States Postal Service facility in Pennsylvania, court documents show. Utley reported that he sprained his back after getting up in the break room.
Utley received both lump sum payments dating back to his reported injury and regular monthly disability benefit payments ranging from about $2,600 in 2011 to $3,300 in 2019, according to court documents.
Court documents say that despite reports of his “painful and debilitating medical conditions,” Utley only spent $14 on painkillers for his back once in 2012. Between 2013 and 2022, prosecutors have said he never filled any prescription medication for his injury.
As part of his testimony, Utley told authorities he had no back injuries prior to the 2009 incident, prosecutors said. But court documents show Utley did not report he was involved in at least nine car crashes before 2009, in which he filed multiple lawsuits for neck and back injuries.
Prosecutors said Utley also failed to report more than one hundred thousand dollars in insurance settlement payments he received as a result of the crashes.
Court documents show Utley also ran several businesses during the time he received disability benefits.
Prosecutors said that despite “allegations of a debilitating work-related back injury,” Utley posted multiple photos on social media between 2015 and 2019 showing him weightlifting, cycling in the mountains, fish for a 3-foot-long trevally, and visit the Grand Canyon. .
Utley was also caught on surveillance video at his Florida residence in 2019 performing extensive yard maintenance, lifting heavy objects with no visible difficulty, according to court documents.
Following a medical exam in 2017, a doctor determined that Utley could return to work at the USPS, according to court documents. But when offered a job as a postal worker in 2018, Utley declined and later told a vocational rehabilitation specialist he would “never go back to work”.
Prosecutors said “had Utley complied with his reporting requirements, he would not have received the disability benefits at issue in this case” and added that Utley’s false reports cost the United States “a total loss of $732,459.46” between 2009 and 2019.
Utley is also sentenced to two years of probation, according to court records. As part of his conviction, he will have to pay $732,459.46 in restitution to the Department of Labor.
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