Man caught lifting weights after $730K disability payout now going to prison, feds say
A former postal worker received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of disability payments for about a decade after he reported a work-related back injury, prosecutors said.
But during these years, the man was caught traveling, fishing and weightlifting despite “claims of a debilitating” injury, prosecutors said.
Now, he’s going to prison.
George Utley was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after he pleaded guilty to receiving stolen government property, “specifically Department of Labor Disability Benefit Payments,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
Between January 2009 and March 2019, the 56-year-old Army veteran received over $732,000 worth of benefit payments by reporting false statements about 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 provides compensation benefits such as medical payments and lost wages to employees injured on the job, court documents show.
Applicants can submit a claim for benefits by providing supporting medical evidence of their work-related injury, prosecutors said. The program then requires employees with disabilities to regularly report any changes in their medical condition and new sources of income or employment.
Utley started receiving benefits in January 2009 after he reported a back injury that occurred while he was working as a mail handler at a Pennsylvania United States Postal Service facility, court documents show.Utley reported that he sprained his back after standing up in the break room.
Utley received both lump sum payments dating back to his reported injury and regular monthly disability benefits payments ranging from approximately $2,600 in 2011 to $3,300 in 2019, court documents show.
Court documents state that despite reports of his “painful disabling medical conditions,” Utley spent only $14 in pain medication for his back once in 2012. Between 2013 and 2022, prosecutors said he never filled any prescription medications for his injury.
As part of his testimony, Utley told authorities that he had no prior back injuries before the 2009 incident, prosecutors said. But court documents show that Utley failed to report he was in at least nine car accidents before 2009 in which he filed several lawsuits for neck and back injuries.
Prosecutors said Utley also failed to report more than a hundred thousand dollars worth of insurance settlement payments he received following the accidents.
Court documents show Utley was also running several businesses during the period he received disability payments.
Prosecutors said that despite “claims of a debilitating, work-related back injury,” Utley posted several pictures on social media between 2015 and 2019 showing him weightlifting, going bicycling in the mountains, fishing a 3 foot-long kingfish and visiting the Grand Canyon.
Utley was also caught on surveillance video in his Florida residence in 2019 doing extensive yard maintenance, lifting heavy items with no visible difficulty, court documents state.
Following a 2017 medical examination, a doctor determined Utley could return to work at USPS, court documents show. But when he was offered a job back as a postal worker in 2018, Utley refused and later told a vocational rehabilitation specialist that he would “never return to work.”
Prosecutors said “had Utley complied with his reporting requirements, he would not have received the disability benefit payments at issue in this case” and added that Utley’s false reports cost the United States “a loss totaling $732,459.46” between 2009 and 2019.
Utley is also sentenced to two years of supervised release, court records show. As part of his sentencing, he will have to pay $732,459.46 in restitution to the Department of Labor.
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