Wife pushed non-disabled husband in wheelchair to net $1.2 million in VA benefits and Postal Workers Compensation

Richard Klaffka posed as a disabled veteran and postal worker for more than decade.

His act, which included a wheelchair he didn’t need, was good enough to reap $1.2 million in fraudulent disability benefits.

Klaffka, 59, of Holland, is now going to prison.

“It was like a way of life,” U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara said of Klaffka’s fraud. “I was amazed at the deception that was used to receive these benefits.”

For Cathleen Klaffka, his 62-year-old wife, the fraud conviction is the latest in what her lawyer called a long list of “family traumas.”

Klaffka’s brother was Joseph Christopher, known as the 22-caliber killer who was convicted of killing several African-American men in 1980. That was about the same time the Klaffkas started dating. Christopher died of cancer while in jail in 1993.

“The trauma she experienced as a result of these events is difficult to put into words,” defense attorney Cheryl Meyers Buth said in her sentencing memo to the court.

In sentencing the Klaffkas, Arcara pointed to the amount they took in — $1.2 million — and the level of deceit they used. He sentenced Richard Klaffka to 32 months in prison and gave Cathleen Klaffka three years of probation. More from Buffalo News

Original Justice Department press release below:

Holland Couple Pleads Guilty In Connection With Fraudulent Receipt Of Over $1,000,000 In Veterans Benefits And Postal Workers Compensation

BUFFALO, N.Y. – March 2017 – Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that Richard Klaffka, 59, and his wife, Cathleen Klaffka, 62, both of Holland, NY, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara in connection with Richard Klaffka’s receipt of over $1,000,000 in benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Labor under false pretenses. Richard Klaffka pleaded guilty to wire fraud and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Cathleen Klaffka pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, which is punishable by maximum penalty of three years in prison. The couple was also ordered to pay $1,237,427 in restitution.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul E. Bonanno, who is handling the case, stated that in 2006, Richard Klaffka told the VA that, due to an injury connected with his military service in 1978, he was disabled, confined to a wheelchair and unable to engage in daily activities like walking, driving, and dressing himself. To promote the fraud, Cathleen Klaffka pushed Richard Klaffka in a wheelchair when at the VA hospital in order to support Richard’s false claim regarding his mobility limitations. In fact, both knew that Richard Klaffka was able to walk without assistance and regularly engaged in extensive physical activities including hiking, riding a bike, and pitching iron horseshoes.

Similarly, in order to get workers compensation benefits from his employment with the United States Postal Service, the defendant falsely claimed that his mobility was limited due to a work injury and that he was only able to walk with the assistance of a cane. All told, the Klaffka’s received $1,237,427 in government benefits to which they were not entitled. The investigation was triggered by an anonymous call to a fraud hotline.

Acting U.S. Attorney Kennedy noted that the defendants “sought fraudulently to enrich themselves by exploiting for their own personal financial benefit a system intended to provide a safety net for disabled American veterans and workers. Through these pleas, the government, in addition to forcing the couple to repay the money they essentially stole, will also seek to hold them liable for interest—in the form of their liberty—when it comes time for sentencing.”

USPS-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Monica Weyler stated, “The U.S. Postal Service spends more than $1-billion dollars per year on workers compensation related expenses. The majority of that money goes to unfortunate postal employees who suffered legitimate on the job injuries. However, as the evidence in this case shows, there are a few employees who decide to take advantage of the federal workers compensation program for their own personal gain. When special agents with the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General receive allegations of workers compensation fraud, they will conduct a thorough investigation with our law enforcement partners, and seek criminal prosecution of those found to be committing fraud. To report workers compensation fraud, or any other crimes committed by postal employees, contact us at www.uspsoig.gov or 888-USPS-OIG.”

The pleas are the result of an investigation on the part of Special Agents of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, Criminal Investigations Division, under the direction of Donna L. Neves; the Department of Veterans Affairs Police Department, under the direction of Chief Jeremy Novak; U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, under the direction of Michael C. Mikulka, Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Region; and the United States Postal Service, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Monica Weyler, Special Agent-in-Charge, Eastern Area Field Office.

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