A Montana Law Week report detailing a February 6, 2018 decision by the Montana Supreme Court lays out a pretty credible case that those who endeavor to commit fraud should 1) pay attention to the details, and 2) follow through on their financial commitments. The case involved a man who had claimed an injury when a heavy “floor burnisher” allegedly fell on him.

The man, an employee at a janitorial service, had made a prior claim of injury from a motor vehicle accident, where he alleged his arm had been injured. When he returned to work, he expressed concerns about handling the burnisher, which is a device used to clean and polish floors. In response to those concerns, he received training on how to properly load the burnisher into a van and was provided with assistance for that task. Yet, lo and behold, despite a co-worker and his fiancée present and in assistance, the burnisher apparently fell on him and injured him. He reported “that his arm went numb as he was lifting the burnisher” and it fell on him. His co-worker and fiancée took him to the emergency room, where he complained of “pain, numbness, and a pin-pricking sensation in his neck & back.” For the next five months the man claimed that that he was “in extreme pain, could not use his right arm and leg, and could not walk without a cane.”

Lo and behold, 5 months later, the co-worker told his supervisor that the entire accident was staged. He claimed he “reluctantly” agreed to place the burnisher on the man’s chest to simulate an accident. He apparently “rolled the machine” back and forth over his co-worker’s chest, and when that failed to produce the desired markings, our beleaguered injured worker had his friend “punch him several times” to help set the stage before they took him to the hospital. 

It is this at this point where we can identify two critical errors in this wizard’s plan. First, the co-worker who had helped him was apparently unhappy, as he had been promised a payment of $20,000 from his friend’s settlement. It had only been five months, so perhaps he was just impatient, but no such payment had been forthcoming. Perhaps everyone’s expectations were just a tad too high.

Second to the matter was the nature of the injuries. Once the case was placed into investigation, it was determined that the injuries he claimed did not line up with the facts as reported. It seems he had just not staged the event properly. You see, details matter, even when committing fraud. Perhaps they should have turned that burnisher on after placing it on his chest. That would’ve likely produced a more desirable outcome, as far as verifiable injuries go.

So, our takeaways to this point are, be sure to meet your financial obligations by paying your co-conspirators, and pay attention to the pesky little details of the injuries you allege.

The rest of the case appears to be quite fascinating, offering other lessons to be learned. Unfortunately, I cannot post the Montana Law Weekly summary, as it is a subscription based service and proprietary content (I am not a subscriber. It was sent to me by someone who correctly anticipated my amusement by the case.)

After the co-worker-conspirator fessed up to his supervisor, the case was reported to the Montana State Fund. Their investigation determined that his claims were indeed fraudulent, and the case was referred for criminal prosecution. The claimant was convicted of felony fraud, received a deferred sentence and was ordered to pay $70,000 in restitution to MSF.

The dumbass then appealed, claiming his counsel had not properly represented him. It seems that he felt his barrister should have objected when the prosecutor asked him if his co-conspirators were lying when they told the court what actually happened. He also objected to the fact that a large wage garnishment that had been attached to his paycheck had been entered into evidence as a possible motive for seeking payment via a workers’ compensation claim. He apparently thought that the garnishment might portray him as a less than responsible person.

Certainly a garnishment is not by itself an indication of character, but in this guys case, I think the sum of all actions leads us to a somewhat negative conclusion. Fortunately, the Montana Supremes did not buy it. They found that the court had conducted itself properly and affirmed the earlier conviction. It sustained the lesson that, when committing fraud, those pesky little details outlined earlier really matter.

The real lesson here, however, as I wrote just last week, is that there are easier ways to steal money from the Montana State Fund. You don’t have to go to all the trouble of lifting a heavy floor buffer onto your chest for a measly 70 Grand. No, instead you just run for the statehouse, and vote for SB 4. That way you and your co-conspirators can walk off with a cool 30 mil, with no threat of criminal prosecution. 

That is probably the greater lesson to be learned here.

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