Wheelchair of Misfortune

By Brian O’Connell
June 1, 2008
A wheelchair-bound crash victim suddenly leaps to his feet to conquer mighty mountains and compete in triathlons.

An inspiring script right out of Hollywood? Or a million-dollar dose of insurance fraud?

Turns out it was fraud.

Aaron Brabson tried to steal $1.3 million in accident insurance money by faking back and neck injuries from a car crash that, he claimed, largely confined him to a wheelchair.

Brabson bilked his insurance company for 18 months. He was hurt for real in a crash in Texas in 2001. After moving to Virginia, Brabson told his insurer that he’d reinjured himself in another crash several years later. He went after the insurance money.

Minor car crash

But investigators in Virginia wondered if Brabson was taking them for a wheelchair ride. The second accident was minor, it turned out. Police dismissed Branson’s bang-up merely as a case of paint damage and a bent license plate.

Actually, Brabson was in top physical shape thanks to an arduous workout program that he undertook for his rehab. Brabson became a competitive triathlete, and tried to impress women by taking them on grueling mountain hikes and long walks through amusement parks, witnesses said at his trial.

Brabson also never told state caregivers that his physical condition was improving, instead complaining to them about his “crummy” condition. He also garnered about $127,000 in attendant care and benefits from Virginia.

An acquaintance said she saw Brabson standing in a checkout line at a Krogers with no apparent difficulty.

Said was own twin

“Aaron?” she asked him, according to court records. Brabson dismissed the volunteer, saying Aaron Brabson was his twin brother. But Brabson doesn’t have a twin brother.

Video surveillance also showed Brabson mowing his lawn and standing on one leg to wipe dog waste from his shoe æ which led prosecutor Duncan P. Reid to joke that “even I can’t do that”.

In the end, the idea of a severely injured man springing from a wheelchair to compete in triathlons brought Brabson’s scam rolling to a halt. He faces 15-years in prison when sentenced.

"For a year-and-a-half, he had fraud on his mind. It took a lot of stubbornness and a lot of determination, but thank God, he didn't pull it off," Reid said.

Teacher fakes cancer

People have faked other disabilities to steal insurance benefits. Special-education teacher Candice Lambert lied that she had terminal cancer so she could steal more than $100,000 in health and disability benefits from her school system in suburban Albany, N.Y.

She even shaved her head to mimic the effects of chemotherapy. People admired Lambert’s can-do attitude and energy in the classroom despite her seemingly desperate condition.

But she was quite healthy all along. Lambert’s con was uncovered after she moved to New Hampshire, supposedly to spend her final months. But instead she continued teaching there. A former New York colleague saw a local newspaper article about her teaching efforts in New Hampshire, and officials started asking questions.

Lambert received one to three years in jail, and was inducted into the coalition’s Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame.

Weakened by post-polio?

Then there’s Long Island businessman Chathapuram Kumar, who said he was confined to a wheelchair from post-polio syndrome. This left him with fatigue, weak legs and other symptoms, he said. Kumar received more than $300,000 in health insurance and other benefits.

But surveillance video allegedly caught Kumar climbing into his car and driving to the tech firm where he worked as a consultant -- without crutches or wheelchair. He’s trying to pay back the stolen money, his lawyer says. Still, Kumar faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

"There's no question that…he was collecting benefits that he shouldn't have been collecting," his lawyer told New York Newsday recently. "His problem has been that his condition has been getting worse ever since he was able to work and he was consequently afraid that he would have to stop everything. That kept him from stopping the benefits."

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