A South Carolina man was convicted of "one of the largest" disability fraud cases in Veterans Affairs history after he was caught riding a motorcycle and going jet skiing while pretending to be wheelchair-bound.
Dennis Paulsen faces up to 20 years in prison for conning the VA and Social Security Administration out of millions of dollars, taking nearly $10,000 a month for more than a decade.
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Paulsen obtained the benefits by pretending he was unable to use his feet or hands due to a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Meanwhile, he regularly hit the gym, joined a club baseball team, played golf, and drove around in his Escalade.
"In conducting one of the largest fraudulent single disability compensation claims in VA history, Paulsen substantially feigned and exaggerated the impairment resulting from his multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis," the Social Security Administration’s inspector general said. "After being diagnosed and discharged from the Navy in the early 1990s, Paulsen began receiving a monthly VA benefit as a result of his diagnosis. Unsatisfied with the amount he was receiving, Paulsen began a pattern of malingering by claiming his MS rendered him unable to use his hands or feet in any respect."
"Still unhappy with the money he was awarded, Paulsen ramped up his claims, lying to his doctors, presenting himself as house- and wheelchair-bound, and making false claims that he required daily professional medical care to live until his benefits were increased to the maximum disability payments available to a Veteran," the inspector general said.
In all, Paulsen was able to steal $1.5 million from the government, collecting $9,400 each month.
The case is reminiscent of the case of a "blind" Wisconsin man whose Social Security disability fraud scheme ended when federal agents caught him driving a speedboat. Paulsen was caught driving a motorcycle.
"Despite his feigned claims of impairments and presenting himself in a wheelchair to his doctors, Paulsen lived in a non-handicap-accessible residence and was able to ride his motorcycle and jet skis plus play baseball and golf on a regular basis," the inspector general said. "In 1999, Paulsen met his ex-wife at the gym where he exercised and worked training others."
Paulsen was also "active in several gyms, joined a baseball league from 2006 until 2014," and seen "playing pool, swimming in his backyard pool, playing on the beach, and driving his Escalade and manual shift Mini Cooper." He even participated in a Marine Mud Run.
Investigators used surveillance footage and family photographs to reveal Paulsen’s very active lifestyle, contradicting his claim of suffering from a severe disability.
Paulsen continues to exaggerate his condition, appearing at his trial in federal court, which concluded last week, in a wheelchair.
"Paulsen testified, in a wheelchair, for four hours and called three doctors as expert witnesses in an attempt to support his claim that he was and had been totally disabled," the inspector general said. "The guilty verdict reflects that the jury did not find this testimony credible."