Man exaggerated impairment, scammed government of $1.5M

AP News
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Posted: Jan 26, 2016 12:17 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A Navy veteran scammed federal agencies out of more than $1.5 million by exaggerating his multiple sclerosis, claiming he needed a wheelchair to get around when he was actually playing golf, baseball and taking part in a grueling foot race, prosecutors said.

A jury in South Carolina found Dennis Paulsen guilty Monday in one of the largest fraudulent disability compensation claims for a single person in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said. An attorney for Paulsen did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Paulsen, 45, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and discharged from the Navy in the early 1990s, according to the federal government. Unsatisfied with his monthly benefit from the VA, prosecutors said Paulsen began claiming more severe disabilities, telling government officials that he couldn't use his hands or feet. He said he couldn't leave his home, required daily medical care and had to use a wheelchair.

Simultaneously, according to the government, Paulsen convinced officials at the Social Security Administration that he was entitled to disability benefits from that agency.

But Paulsen continued to lead an active lifestyle, playing sports, riding a jet ski and motorcycle and working out at a gym, the government said. When he moved from Virginia to Blythewood, South Carolina, Paulsen bought a home that was not wheelchair-accessible and even stopped going to specialists for his multiple sclerosis.

In 2014, a "concerned citizen" called the Veterans Administration, reporting that Paulsen wasn't as impaired as he appeared, the U.S. attorney said in a news release.

Using a combination of surveillance video, undercover agents and family photographs provided by Paulsen's now-ex-wife, the government built a case against him, noting that he even participated in a Marine Mud Run, a strenuous, obstacle-laden foot race. At his seven-day trial, several doctors testified on behalf of Paulsen, who testified in a wheelchair.

Paulsen faces up to 20 years in prison and half a million dollars in fines when he's sentenced later, along with forfeiture of the more than $1.5 million he received.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/