A state employee out of work injured since 2008 wants to retire with a full disability benefit, but a FOX Undercover investigation finds the man hasn’t exactly been home nursing his injuries.
Mass. Department of Correction officer John Cloutier claims he injured his lower back on the job, and that he's so hurt he deserves a full disability retirement from the state.
But when FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet approached him to ask about his claim, Cloutier ran from the camera in a full sprint.
That was just a short run for Cloutier, who has been out of work since July 2008.
Six months after he started collecting workers’ compensation, Cloutier ran a marathon at Walt Disney World in Florida. Pictures from a marathon website show Cloutier smiling, enjoying the race.
Cloutier finished the Jan. 2009 race of 26 miles in 4 hours and 46 minutes. You can’t blame him if he was a little tired. The day before, he ran Disney’s half-marathon, pictures of which are also posted on the Internet.
But his running doesn’t end there. Eight months later, in September 2009, Cloutier laced up his running shoes again. This time he went to Disneyland in California to run another half marathon. Once again, the pictures from a racing website show he’s all smiles.
“You ran two half marathons and a marathon last year, yet you're disabled sir?” asked FOX Undercover’s Beaudet. “How do you explain this? Are you cheating the taxpayers?”
Cloutier did not respond to the questions.
Records obtained by FOX Undercover reveal that Cloutier applied for an accidental disability retirement in June 2009, a benefit that would give him 72 percent of his $62,000 salary tax-free for the rest of his life.
In the application, filed five months after Cloutier's first Disney running trip to Florida, he claimed "total incapacity" because of a lower back injury he got at work.
But that didn't stop Cloutier from traveling to California in September for his second Disney running adventure of 2009, where he completed 13 miles in 2 hours and 22 minutes.
“I think it proves that he was faking. That he wasn't truly injured. That he was looking for the taxpayers to pick up his salary for the rest of his life,” said state Treasurer Tim Cahill, who is chairman of the state Retirement Board, which approves disability retirements. Cahill is also running for governor.
After receiving the same tip as FOX Undercover, the Retirement Board shot down Cloutier's request.
“Based on all the information we gathered, we determined, and it was recommended, and we agreed with the recommendation, that this man was not disabled. That he could perform his duties,” Cahill said.
But Cloutier, of Freetown, remains out of work, and has been collecting workers’ compensation for nearly two years.
FOX Undercover has learned Cloutier is now under investigation by the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Coakley would not confirm or deny the investigation, but said in general her office investigates about a dozen worker's compensation fraud cases a year. If people are found to have committed fraud, Coakley says they should pay back the money.
“We always at a minimum seek some kind of restitution because we believe at a minimum they should be forced to pay it back,” she said.
Since 2009, the attorney general's office has garnered $317,619 dollars in restitution from workers’ compensation fraud cases. Some cheats end up on probation. Others even go to jail.
“In some of these cases, the fraud seems pretty outrageous?” FOX Undercover’s Beaudet asked Coakley.
“It does and makes you wonder how people think they can get away with it,” Coakley replied.
But it doesn’t look like Cloutier will be getting away with anything. On top of the AG’s investigation, Cloutier is suspended from his job and could be fired.
The Department of Correction wouldn’t discuss Cloutier’s case, saying it does not discuss personnel matters, but provided a statement saying, "The Massachusetts Department of Correction has aggressively worked with the office of the Attorney General to combat workers' compensation fraud. As a result of our efforts, the DOC workers' compensation costs have declined 40 percent since 2005."
The union representing correction officers also would not comment on Cloutier's case, but the president of the union, Brian Jansen, said in a statement that “…this union does not support or endorse any form of deception or fraud with respect to injured on duty claims."