VACAVILLE — A federal grand jury in Sacramento indicted a Vacaville husband and wife Thursday for allegedly defrauding the government out of more than $120,000 for bogus workers’ compensation benefits and for bankruptcy fraud.
Michael McCree, 60, and Debra Fields, 58, both face possibly 15 years in prison or longer if they are convicted of the felony charges. Both were arrested by federal agents last month and were out of custody after each posted $100,000 bail.
McCree worked for six months as a mail processor for the U.S. Postal Service in Oakland back in 1988 and 1989 when he went out on a disability leave, claiming he hurt his lower back. He never went back to work and has been receiving workers’ compensation benefits ever since — 23 years.
Less than a year after claiming his injury, McCree was fired by the Postal Service for falsifying documents. But the U.S. Department of Labor, which covers workers’ compensation claims, kept paying him monthly nontaxable benefits until June 2012, shortly before his arrest. He received a monthly government check of $2,327 in wage loss compensation before his arrest, according to court records.
McCree was also receiving monthly Veterans Affairs compensation of $3,601 for a 100-percent service-connected disability. Fields, who works full-time as a nurse assistant for Veterans Affairs in Martinez, received $1,500 a month from the Postal Service to provide home nursing services to her husband.
After receiving monthly workers’ compensation payments for more than 20 years, investigators took a closer look at McCree, conducting undercover surveillance in June 2012 from outside the couple’s Dawnview Way home, according to court records.
The surveillance was prompted by the discovery that McCree had collected more than $124,000 between 2007 and 2012 for travel mileage reimbursement in which McCree claimed he was traveling 190 miles round-trip, four times a week, from Vacaville to physical therapy in Oakland. Investigators discerned the round trip was not 190 miles. They also discovered the clinic was an Alcoholics Anonymous group. Workers’ compensation does not cover Alcoholics Anonymous.
Agents followed McCree and Fields a dozen times in June. He did not have a driver’s license and she always did the driving. They never drove to Oakland and he never got treatment. Instead, they typically drove to a local coffee shop before going to a home being built on Cache Court in Vacaville. McCree later filed mileage claims, paid at 55 cents a mile, stating he had driven to Oakland each of those days in June.
Investigators learned the home being built was being purchased by McCree, who claimed his only source of income was his federal “retirement.”
Investigators also discovered McCree had started a corporation in 1992 named The Next Step Regeneration House for recovering addicts and alcoholics. A 2009 filing with the state named McCree as the corporation’s chief executive officer. That ran contrary to McCree’s annual signed affidavits in which he claimed no business endeavors.
Investigators learned Fields filed for bankruptcy in 2011, claiming around $750,000 in debt. While she mentioned the $1,500 monthly VA payments, she did not mention her husband’s wage loss compensation or the mileage reimbursement in her bankruptcy filings. She also did not mention the bank account through which the new home was being purchased. Instead she listed two bank accounts, each with balances of less than $200.
McCree was charged with 18 counts of making false statements in order to receive workers’ compensation and other compensation and reimbursements. Fields was charged with three counts: concealing property, making a false oath and making a false statement.
“This indictment marks a significant effort in the ongoing battle against fraudulent workers’ compensation claims. The workers’ compensation program benefits thousands of postal employees who have suffered legitimate on-the-job injuries. But false claims by postal employees undermine the system. Special agents with the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General investigate such claims and work hand in hand with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure violators are brought to justice,” Special Agent in Charge Nichole Cooper said in a news release announcing the indictments.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.