Christopher Michael O'Brien, 40, of Eldersburg, pleaded guilty Wednesday to making false statements to obtain federal employee's compensation.
The loss suffered by the U.S. Postal Service from May 2012 through November 2013 due to O'Brien's false statements is $80,647.25, according to a United States Attorney's Office District of Maryland news release.
O'Brien and the government have agreed that if the court accepts the plea agreement, O'Brien will be sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home detention as a condition of supervised release. O'Brien also agreed to pay restitution of $80,647.25, and to resign from employment, and not to seek future employment, with the U.S. Postal Service. U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett scheduled sentencing for 11 a.m. May 15, according to the release.
The guilty plea was announced by United State's Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge Paul Bowman, of the U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General, Capital Metro Area Field Office.
According to his plea agreement, from 1998 through 2014, O'Brien worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier. On March 25, 2008, O'Brien signed a form stating that he had injured his lower back when picking up a tub containing mail at the Derwood Branch of the Rockville post office where he worked as a carrier technician, according to the release.
From that date through November 2013, O'Brien received more than $212,420.12 in lost wage benefits from the alleged injury. During this period, O'Brien represented that he was unable to perform household chores, such as lawn maintenance, or resume full duty work due to severe pain and physical limitations resulting from his injury.
Medical documents submitted to the Labor Department by physicians and medical professionals treating O'Brien's injury indicated that he wore a back brace, used a cane, consistently limped and complained of persistent pain during medical examinations, according to the release.
From May 2012 through August 2013, USPS-OIG agents periodically observed and video recorded O'Brien walking briskly; jogging; bending; twisting; kneeling; squatting; lifting items weighing over 100 pounds; driving family members; performing household chores and yard maintenance, such as dog walking, pushing, pulling and turning a lawn mower, carrying and operating a weed line trimmer, carrying and operating a leaf blower; and regularly using dumbbells, barbells, stationary cycles and treadmills at a gym located in Eldersburg.
During this time, except for the interview July 30, described below, agents did not observe O'Brien wearing a back brace or using a cane.
The Postal Service periodically contacts claimants concerning their capability to return to full or limited duty. On July 30, O'Brien was interviewed at the Baltimore Post Office. Prior to the interview, agents saw O'Brien walking with no apparent disability from his house to his vehicle parked in front of his house, and driving to the interview.
When O'Brien arrived at the post office, agents saw him walk slowly with a limp as he entered the building. O'Brien completed a form in which he maintained that he could not kneel, squat, climb or bend, and that he could not stand or walk for more than 10 minutes and could not sit for more than 15 minutes.
During the interview, O'Brien said that he wears a back brace all the time when outside of his house; his wife drove him to the interview; he does not go to a gym; he has not lifted more than 15 pounds; he cannot twist or bend at the waist; and he needs to hold onto something when squatting to lift an object from the floor. O'Brien further stated he has difficulty walking, does not jog, does not usually walk the dog, does no lawn work, cannot push a mower and does not operate a power trimmer, according to the release.
Following the interview, O'Brien was observed walking slowly with a limp from the post office to his vehicle, and driving away. Agents later observed O'Brien park in front of his house and walk into his home without a limp, carrying a back brace in his hand. On the day before and after the interview, agents saw O'Brien exercising at his gym, lifting dumbbells and walking on the treadmill.
On November 7, O'Brien admitted to USPS-OIG agents during an interview that he has not needed a cane since March 2010 and has not used a back brace when driving, exercising at the gym and performing yard work. O'Brien further admitted that he could have returned to work at the Postal Service in some capacity in March 2010 and that he misled his treating physicians and medical professionals in order to avoid returning to work, according to the release.
"Diligent federal agents brought Christopher O'Brien's long-running disability scam to an end by following him on several occasions to determine that his injury claims were fraudulent," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in the news release. "Government employees who make false disability claims must be held accountable for defrauding taxpayers."