Postal Carrier Caught In Workers' Comp Fraud On 'Price Is Right'
Many people have called in sick to work when they were perfectly fine and just wanted the day off. Some might even be so calculating as to fake an injury and claim workers' compensation benefits for months, or years. But how many would be so brazen as to show -- on national television -- how fit they actually are?
That's exactly what former North Carolina postal worker Cathy Wrench Cashwell has admitted to doing. On Monday, Cashwell pled guilty to fraud in connection with a workers' compensation claim that she filed in 2004. Cashwell had claimed that a shoulder injury prevented her from lifting mail trays into trucks for the United States Postal Service and, as a result, was collecting benefits since 2005. Then in 2009 she appeared on the game show "The Price is Right," where she used her whole upper body -- shoulders included -- to spin the show's famous "big wheel," twice. In what seems to be another brilliant move, she also posted a photo on her Facebook page that showed her riding a zipline, according to the indictment filed against her.
But it was Cashwell's appearance on the show that tipped off investigators, and in September 2012 she was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. In her worker's comp paperwork, Cashwell had claimed that she couldn't "stand, sit, kneel, squat, climb, bend, reach or grasp." Yet according to the indictment, spinning the "big wheel" on the show is quite demanding, and required Cashwell to raise "both arms above her head and grip the same handle with both hands." Given such a condition, spinning that wheel would have been a "pretty mean feat," wrote MSN.com.
Usually nailing workers for fraudulent workers' compensation claims requires a lot of detective work, investigators say. "Sometimes you have to get in the woods and bushes. The secret is you've got to have your camera up," private investigator Allison Blackman told North Carolina station WRAL-TV, which was first to report on the guilty plea.
Although Blackman estimates that 30 percent of workers' compensation claims in North Carolina are fraudulent, the evidence suggests fraudulent workers' comp claims in the U.S. are relatively rare. A landmark report by PBS' "Frontline" in 2000 found that just 1 to 2 percent of those claims are fraudulent, describing the notion that there is rampant fraud a "myth."
In fact, the overall money that private employers are paying for workers' compensation claims reached its lowest level last year since 1986. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private sector employers spent 1.80 percent of their payroll on workers' compensation claims in 2012. And it was the seventh year in a row in which the spending dropped.
When she appeared on the "The Price is Right" in 2009, Cashwell was awarded a six-night vacation to Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, Calif. At a sentencing scheduled for September, she'll find out what she gets for committing fraud.
In a similar case of being caught publicly in an apparent lie about a disability, AOL Jobs reported on Paul Marshallsea, who was fired in March from a job as a project manager for the Welsh charity, the Pant and Dowlais Boys & Girls Club. Marshallsea had been on extended sick leave for "work-related stress" since April 2012, but that diagnosis was put in doubt after Marshallsea became an Internet sensation for jumping into the ocean off Australia to pull a 6-foot-long shark away from children.
And in another high-profile case of workers' comp fraud, several Long Island Rail Road workers have pleaded guilty this year to participating in a scam in which they took early retirement while claiming to be disabled -- so they could receive disability benefits along with their pensions. Hundreds of workers are alleged to have taken part in the scheme.
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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