A Postal employee has been arrested on charges that he claimed to be totally disabled in order to bilk over $160,000 worth of disability benefits from the government.
According to an announcement from the Justice Department, Joseph Penatello, a former motor vehicle operator for the Postal Service, was caught on video shot by Postal Service Inspector General agents in which he was seen running flea markets, a job that involved some heavy labor, despite having claimed that he was still totally disabled from an injury he had previously sustained on the job.
According to the complaint, Penatello began receiving workers’ compensation benefits in 2001, after he sustained a neck and back injury while working for the Postal Service.
In order to continue receiving those benefits, between March 2014 and April 2018, Penatello submitted documents to the Department of Labor falsely claiming that he was totally disabled and unable to work due to his medical condition. He also falsely claimed that he was not earning any income.
However, on over 20 occasions between 2014 and 2018, USPS-OIG special agents video-recorded him working as an organizer at flea markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan, capturing him engaging in strenuous activities, such as carrying heavy objects, standing for long periods of time and driving a motor vehicle.
On one occasion, Penatello told an undercover special agent that he runs flea markets five days-a-week and up to 12 hours per day. During the relevant time period, Penatello received more than $160,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.
The charges in the complaint are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendant faces a statutory maximum of five years’ imprisonment.
“The federal Workers’ Compensation program was created to help those who are recovering from injuries obtained on-the-job,” stated USPS-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Matthew Modafferi. “When a Postal Service employee defrauds the Workers’ Compensation program, the Special Agents of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General will work tirelessly with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to protect the integrity of this federal benefit program.”