Everything is not “coming up roses” for a Fontana, Calif. man who is facing workers’ compensation fraud and perjury charges.
Fifty-four-year-old Jose Cortez formerly earned a living as a gardener until Oct. 2010, when a large tree branch fell and landed on him during his shift for L. Barrios & Associates Landscaping. Cortez was then transported to a local hospital and sent home with “minor work restrictions.”
Although Cortez claimed the injuries sustained that day prevented him from completing his customary work duties, at least one person was not convinced. The following year, a tip aroused enough suspicion to initiate video surveillance of Cortez. During the course of the probe, insurance investigators observed Cortez carrying on as if it were business as usual. In fact, investigators documented at least six separate occasions when they saw him performing his normal duties as a gardener without any obvious signs of discomfort.
In Sept. 2012, investigators from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fraud Unit conducted a thorough criminal investigation, collecting surveillance footage allegedly incriminating Cortez, who was still collecting insurance benefits at the time.
“Mr. Cortez had previously stated that he was unable to perform the full range of his duties,” said Deputy District Attorney Scott Byrd, who is assigned to the case. “However, our investigation revealed that he had misrepresented the extent of his injuries and received more compensation than [to which] he was entitled.”
On Jan. 21, the prosecution filed criminal charges against Cortez, resulting in a felony arrest warrant being issued. Cortez was taken into custody outside his residence without incident by District Attorney Investigators. He was then transported and booked at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s West Valley Detention Center. On Jan. 22, Cortez entered a plea of "not guilty" in San Bernardino Superior Court.
If convicted as charged, Cortez could enter a system far different from workers’ compensation—namely prison, where he could serve as many as eight years.
“This type of fraud is harmful because it causes premiums that businesses have to pay to go higher,” Byrd says. “It drains business profits, which in turn costs honest workers money in raises or other benefits that they may have been eligible to receive.”