Appearances are Deceiving

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Appearances can be deceiving. A Western Michigan man is the focus of our fraud article today because he gave the appearance that he was a well-respected community business owner who also served on several committees for the state Governor’s office. Meanwhile, he was committing Social Security fraud by collecting disability benefits he did not deserve. (It was a rather bold endeavor to fraudulently collect government benefits under the nose of the Governor if you ask me.)

Let’s take a look at the fraudster’s persona he wanted others to see. The Muskegon County man is the former owner of a construction company that he transferred to other family members. While he was no longer in charge of the business, he actively participated in making bids, buying lumber and other supplies, completing periodic light construction, all without being paid for his time or effort. At the same time, he served as a Lead Abatement Supervisor for the Michigan Governor’s Lead Hazard Reduction Committee and served a two-and-a-half-year term on the Michigan Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Commission. (He was actually appointed by the Government to this position – very impressive.)

When applying for Social Security Administration disability benefits, the former construction company owner claimed he had multiple physical issues that prevented him from being gainfully employed. Court documents show that he received disability benefits over eight years even though he was “working” for his former business and serving on two committees through the State of Michigan Governor’s office.

While appearances may have suggested otherwise, surveillance video finally provided the confirmation that appearances are truly deceiving. Much to his chagrin, video showed the man completing many rigorous physical activities including loading a lumber cart, carrying golf clubs, shoveling dirt in his garden, tossing a ball with his dog and loading a ladder into the back of his pickup truck. (Perhaps it was a miraculous healing; however, we know better.)

To his credit, the Michigan man agreed to a plea deal for committing Social Security disability fraud despite being capable of working in construction and serving on government committees. He got into trouble by not reporting his work or physical activities to the Social Security Administration despite knowing he was required to do so.

Fortunately, the deceptive man cooperated with the investigation into the charges against him. If the judge agrees to what the prosecution and defense have agreed upon – recommending one year of in-house detention while on probation – the former construction company owner will avoid a decade behind bars. (It’s always a good idea for a criminal to cooperate with an investigation so that it gives the appearance that they are remorseful. That goes a long way toward reducing a sentence.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Michigan man pleads guilty to disability benefits fraud,” published by The Oakland Press on November 1, 2018.

GRAND RAPIDS>> A western Michigan man has agreed to a plea deal for collecting disability benefits despite being capable of working in construction and serving on a governor’s committee.

Michael Alan Fehler Sr. has agreed to plead guilty to conversion of public money, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.