Polk County Woman Pleads Guilty to Work Comp Fraud

Federal prosecutors report that Jessy Paliyath Peter of Lakeland pleaded guilty this month to theft of government funds and making a false statement to obtain federal employee’s compensation. At the root of the case is a fraudulent workers’ compensation application.

According to the plea agreement presented in federal court, in 2000, Peter, then employed as a mail clerk for the U.S. Postal Service in Polk County, alleged she sustained an injury to her back. She later made application for and was approved to receive federal employees’ compensation benefits due to the injury.

The Federal Employees Compensation Act provides compensation benefits to civilian employees of the United States for disabilities due to personal injuries sustained while in the performance of their official duties at the workplace. It is essentially the federal version of workers’ compensation. The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (DOL/OWCP) requires disabled federal employees to complete and submit a Form EN-1032 on an annual basis. The DOL/OWCP then reviews the EN-1032 to determine whether the employee is still eligible to receive wage replacement income or if an adjustment in benefits is warranted.

From 2003 through the end of 2012, Peter worked as a sales representative for Avon, Inc. and earned commissions on her sales. From February 2009 to at least December 2012, Peter exercised regularly at Lifestyle Family Fitness Center for an average of four to five days per week, typically for one to two hours per visit. Law enforcement has surveillance video which reportedly revealed that she routinely and actively participated in group fitness classes and exercised on weight machines, consistently exceeding her medical restrictions. According to the plea agreement, two physicians, who had previously examined Peter, viewed the surveillance video and advised that Peter had misrepresented her physical condition to them. The physicians removed all medical restrictions and cleared Peter for full duty employment.

In May 2011, Peter filed a false and fraudulent Form EN-1032. Specifically, she reported that she was not employed; reported no income of any kind; and allegedly concealed the true state of her physical health. Peter now admits she made these false statements because she did not want her DOL/OWCP wage replacement benefits to be reduced or terminated.

After a pre-sentence investigation is completed, Peters will be sentenced by the court. She faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.

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