HELENA, Montana — A man who suffered a knee injury while working at the Montana State Prison in 2000 has acknowledged defrauding the state workers' compensation fund by collecting disability benefits while running a construction company in Utah.
Benjie Leroy Christensen, of Roosevelt, Utah, pleaded guilty to felony theft in District Court in Helena on May 21. He was given a 10-year probationary sentence and ordered to pay more than $97,000 in restitution, the Montana attorney general's office said.
Christensen's case involved one of the highest claimant fraud restitution amounts in recent history, said Laurence Hubbard, president of the Montana State Fund. The theft involved wage loss, medical and prescription benefits Christensen received from 2008 to 2014.
Charging documents alleged Christensen, 52, started collecting permanent disability benefits in April 2004.
A registered nurse visited Christensen in July 2011 due to a lack of information from his doctor. She said Christensen walked with a limp but appeared otherwise healthy and had muscular arms. She also noted construction tools on his porch, court records said.
Christensen told the nurse he had a hard time sitting, but standing and walking helped, and that he couldn't see a doctor in Salt Lake City because he couldn't "handle the long ride."
Ten months later, Christensen was evaluated by a Salt Lake City physician who reported that Christensen told him he slept poorly due to pain and cramps in his legs, required help from his wife at least four times per night, spent most of the day lying down and lifted nothing heavier than a milk carton.
A private investigator documented Christensen working full days at several construction sites in Vernal, Utah, in the fall of 2013. Video showed Christensen climbing ladders, and lifting and stacking lumber.
In January 2014, the state fund received a statement from Christensen saying he was unable to work at any job, couldn't sit for long periods of time, was spending most of his life in bed and that his wife had to close her business to care for him.
A general contractor told investigators he had paid Christensen over $200,000 for subcontract work from 2010 to 2013 and that Christensen never appeared to be injured, court records said. State investigators also visited homeowners who had hired Christensen for construction work during the time he claimed he was disabled.
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