Helena, MT – Utah resident Benjie Leroy Christensen recently plead guilty in Lewis & Clark County District Court to felony theft for receiving Montana workers’ compensation permanent disability payments for six years while he was actually performing construction work.
In September 2014, Christensen, 52, was accused of defrauding the Montana State Fund for $97,352.71 in wage loss, medical, and prescription benefits he received from 2008 to 2014. Christensen pleaded guilty to the felony theft charge in District Court in Helena and was sentenced on May 21 to ten years at the Montana Department of Corrections; all were suspended and Christensen will remain on supervision. He was also ordered to pay restitution to Montana State Fund in the amount of $97,352.71.
Assistant Attorney General Mary Cochenour alleged Christensen lied about being permanently disabled after sustaining injuries while working at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge in 2000 and again in 2001. Christensen was found to be permanently disabled by a physician in January 2004, and began receiving permanent total disability payments from Montana State Fund in April 2004.
Seven years later, a registered nurse was sent to Christensen’s home in Vernal, Utah to evaluate his condition because Christensen and his doctor had failed to communicate with Montana State Fund. The nurse noted Christensen was in good physical condition, and that there were several construction tools on his front porch. In 2012, Christensen told a Salt Lake City physician during another medical evaluation that he couldn’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk and that his wife took care of him because he couldn’t be left alone.
However, investigators from the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation and Montana State Fund learned after observing surveillance video footage in 2013 that Christensen was actively engaged in construction activities, including walking up and down a ladder several times, lifting pieces of lumber, stacking lumber, and throwing lumber. Last year, the State’s investigators visited homeowners who had hired Christensen for construction work, and learned that he owned a business named B & C Construction, which he advertised on Facebook. Investigators also learned that Christensen had been paid over $202,000 for work he had completed as a subcontractor in Utah from 2010-13. The State’s investigators also discovered that Christensen had applied for four other work comp claims in Utah between 1987 and 1989.
“This case sends a clear message that we will find and prosecute anyone who defrauds Montana’s workers’ compensation system, no matter where you live,” said Attorney General Tim Fox. “My thanks to Assistant Attorney General Mary Cochenour, Division of Criminal Investigation Agent Tony Poppler, and the staff at Montana State Fund for their thorough and tenacious efforts on behalf of Montana’s employers and employees.”
Laurence Hubbard, president of Montana State Fund, noted that the Christensen case involves one of the highest claimant fraud restitution amounts in recent history. “Workers’ compensation fraud is theft, plain and simple. It hurts all businesses paying into the system, so it is vital that we prosecute these cases vigorously. We appreciate the collaborative work between Montana State Fund and the Montana Department of Justice that enables us to preserve benefit funds for injured workers who truly need them.”
Source: MT AG’s Office