Weightlifter Pleads Guilty to Stealing Over $100k in VA Disability Benefits

A Missouri man pleaded guilty to taking VA disability benefits despite being able to do heavy weightlifting exercises.

Charles Adams, 50, of Berkeley, Missouri pleaded guilty on July 25, 2023 to stealing $106,245 in Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits despite doing various strenuous exercises with heavy weights according to an announcement from the United States Attorney’s Office from the Eastern District of Missouri.

Adams underwent multiple medical evaluations after he applied for increased disability benefits due to service-connected degenerative disc disease with degenerative arthritis. In April 2017, he reported difficulty getting out of bed some mornings and an inability to stand for extended periods of time. A Department of Veterans Affairs examiner noted that he walked slowly and with a limp at that time.

Adams also demonstrated severe limitations in his range of motion, rotation, and other use of his back during a back examination in November 2017. However, not long after this examination and again in March 2018, his plea agreement states that he was performing deep squats, leg presses with over 800 pounds of resistance, rope pulldowns, and other high-intensity exercises or movements that were inconsistent with the level of back limitations he demonstrated at his examinations.

Apparently, the videos that were posted to his Instagram account, @tlf_trainer, in late 2017 and March 2018 helped give it away. They showed Adams lifting heavy weights and squatting which investigators say contradicts his claims that he was limited in his abilities to lift, squat, bend, stand, walk, and sit.

Despite doing these exercises around this time, Adams filed for VA individual unemployability benefits in February 2018. Included in his application was a statement from a doctor stating that he was very limited in movements including bending, stooping, twisting, lifting more than 25 pounds above shoulder height, kneeling, running, jumping, and standing. 

In August 2019, he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits after a January 2017 application was rejected. His second application represented that his medical conditions affected his abilities to lift, squat, bend, stand, walk, and sit despite him not reporting going to Club Fitness for workouts. In fact, he checked into Club Fitness the day before a July 7, 2020 hearing for his second disability application, later on the same day as his hearing and the day after. 

Adams continued to work out at Club Fitness in 2020 and 2021. In June 2021, he attended a medical review for the VA. Investigators watched as Adams walked normally and lifted and carried bags of trash before going to his examination, but when he arrived for the examination, he used a cane to walk and did so at a much slower pace.

The website listed on his Instagram account, tru-legacyfitness.com, describes him on his “About Me” page as, “Retired Army Veteran with a lengthy passion and experience for beauty, health, and fitness, coupled with my background in athletics led me to becoming a certified personal trainer. I strongly believe in the necessity for an active lifestyle, Encompassing a balance of all the compulsory components of fitness.”

Adams is scheduled to be sentenced on October 25, 2023. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both, and he will also be ordered to repay the money.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.