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A “blind” Wisconsin man’s $175,000 Social Security disability fraud scheme ended when federal agents caught him driving a speedboat, according to the inspector general.
Lawrence Popp, 58, was sentenced to one year in prison on Tuesday for defrauding the Social Security Administration after pretending to be blind in order to get disability benefits. Popp said he was unable to drive, read, or “bowl without bumpers” due to his condition.
Popp, a wealthy businessman, continued to work and go on lavish vacations in the Cayman Islands while collecting disability benefits for five years.
Popp was found out after agents from the IRS and the SSA caught him driving a water-ski boat, a snowmobile, and driving a car to and from his benefits office, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Popp collected $115,000 in unlawful Medicare benefits and evaded $178,000 in taxes between 2004 and 2009 in addition to disability payments.
During a review at an SSA office in 2008, Popp told his benefits counselor he “could not read small print, couldn't bowl without bumpers used by children and couldn't work.”
Federal agents then recorded Popp walking back to his car and driving away.
“The lies are just one after another," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Giampietro. “This is a cynical abuse of a program truly geared to those who need assistance."
The man used the money to buy expensive jewelry and vacations, spending $25,000 for a diamond necklace for his wife. According to the Sentinel, $225,000 in gold, silver, and jewelry was recovered from Popp's house.
A record 10,988,269 people received federal disability benefits in December 2013, according to the SSA. A 2012 report from Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) found that more than 25 percent of benefits are awarded with “insufficient, contradictory, and incomplete evidence.”