MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A Massachusetts man seen manning big fishing rods and harpooning huge fish on the reality show "Wicked Tuna" collected government benefits while claiming to be disabled and unable to work, federal prosecutors said.
Paul Hebert, 50, of Gloucester, Massachusetts, accepted more than $44,000 in Social Security and Medicaid benefits between 2010 and 2013, according to a four-count indictment filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Burlington.
Hebert first filed for Social Security disability in the spring of 2009, claiming on his application that he was unable to work at any job, could not walk properly, could not lift heavy weights or drive for more than short distances, according to the indictment. Hebert also said he lived alone that he had no financial resources, no vehicle and no income. He began receiving benefits in October 2010, authorities said.
But the indictment alleges that Hebert actually was "capable of arduous physical labor." Investigators said he was living with a woman with whom he had a child, owned a vehicle and was doing work for pay, including fishing for tuna and appearing on the TV show.
Hebert's Boston attorney, Robert Goldstein, said his client "adamantly asserts his innocence and looks forward to defending these charges in court."
The National Geographic Channel show began airing in 2012 and follows several Gloucester-based boats trying to land bluefin tuna, which can weigh hundreds of pounds and fetch tens of thousands of dollars. In clips on the show's website, Hebert can be seen driving the boat, grabbing a fishing rod and harpooning a tuna.
National Geographic did not return emails Monday seeking comment.
Hebert is due in court on Aug. 10. The indictment did not say where in Vermont he was living, but public records listed him as having an address in Barre.
A 2012 story about Hebert in a Massachusetts newspaper described him as "one of the most animated characters" on the show, now in its fourth season. It says Hebert is a third-generation tuna fisherman who is the youngest of six boys.