A former private security officer was sentenced on Thursday in Butte County Superior Court on five separate felony counts of Workers’ Compensation fraud stemming from an “accident” in 2009.
The convictions were the result of a December 12, 2009 incident where the defendant, Howard William Neel, 59, of Oroville, had been working as a private security officer for a local security company. On that date Neel was putting gas in his assigned company vehicle at a gas station in Chico when another vehicle backed slightly into the front bumper of his Crown Victoria security vehicle causing it to move backwards. Neel claimed he was knocked down as a result of the collision. Neel claimed extensive back, neck and leg pain as a result of the accident and went to Enloe Hospital and sought medical care and was taken off work.
During subsequent medical treatment, Neel told doctors the impact to his security vehicle at the gas station had been so severe that his vehicle was “spun around,” knocking him down. Later, investigators retrieved a copy of a surveillance tape from the gas station which showed the impact to be minor, revealed Neel was never knocked down, and showed Neel walking normally after the impact, but then start limping when the other party involved in the bumper tap saw him. When that individual left, Neel started walking normally again.
Neel was seen by a variety of doctors during the course of his treatment under his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance and repeatedly denied any back, neck or leg injuries prior to the December 2009 “accident.” However, an investigation later determined he had suffered the same type of back injury while lifting boxes 10 years prior, which was also treated under the workers’ compensation system. Neel had also complained to several co-workers of back pain and was taking pain medication for back pain approximately one month prior to the December 2009 incident. He had not disclosed this prior back injury to his employer at the time of his hire in 2007.
During Neel’s July 21, 2015 jury trial, prosecutors also showed jurors that when Neel first returned to work on a rainy December 30, 2010, he claimed that while walking over a wet planter, he slipped to his knees, got back up, and reported being injured to his dispatcher. Later he reported to a workers’ compensation doctor that he fell on his back and shoulder. Photos taken on the date of the slip-and-fall show mud on his trouser knees and lower legs, but not on his back or shoulder.
Neel used a cane when he went to doctors’ offices, but undercover surveillance tapes showed him without a cane when working around his house and with his horses.
Neel was interviewed by the Butte County Probation Department prior to his Thursday sentencing. It was noted by the probation officer that Neel displayed no remorse for his actions and would not accept any responsibility for his criminal conduct.
Neel was sentenced to one year in the Butte County Jail as a condition of three years of probationary supervision. During that time Neel will also be required to complete a theft awareness and financial management program and to pay restitution to the workers’ compensation program. A hearing on the issue of restitution has been set for December 11, 2015 in Butte County Superior Court. Prosecutors noted Neel could be ordered to pay restitution of approximately $245,800.
District Attorney Mike Ramsey said it was important to take Neel to a felony jury trial to demonstrate that workers’ compensation fraud is considered a fraud upon the entire community. “Honest workers and hard-working employers are all cheated when fraudsters like Neel lie and cause workers’ compensation rates to go up. We take such fraud very seriously here in Butte County and will vigorously prosecute it.” Ramsey also acknowledged the invaluable assistance of the California Department of Insurance Fraud Division in the investigation and prosecution of the Neel case.