A New York man reportedly faked being blind so he could receive millions in disability benefits.
John Caltabiano claimed in his benefits application he couldn’t drive, cook, shave, move around his house or exercise at the gym without someone’s help. The 49-year-old said he lost his eyesight in a work accident at a cement company in 2006.
“I sit in the dark and listen to TV,” he wrote in the application.
Despite being lead into the building before his disability hearing in Hudson, New York, in fall 2015, investigators caught him on camera apparently reading something just days earlier.
In another video, he was caught driving a car and then braking in time to avoid hitting a woman and child walking in the street. The behavior was consistent with someone faking disability to claim benefits.
Disability fraud is a major problem nationwide, with $225 million being returned to taxpayers in 2015 from 1,200 disability fraud convictions, according to ABC News.
“When it comes to making an assessment of how many are out there, we know how much has been brought to our attention, and we really rely on those fraud allegations,” Social Security Administration assistant inspector general for investigations Michael Robinson said.
Caltabiano was investigated after a tip came in about the possibility of him faking his blindness. A subsequent investigation from the Department of Justice and U.S. Social Security Administration found he did lose sight in one eye during a workplace incident. There was no indication the other eye was affected.
Caltabiano, who would have collected $1.3 million in benefits had he not been caught, was sentenced to five years in prison in October 2015 for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and theft of property. His lawyer said he was appealing the case.
In a similar incident, a YouTube star was busted as a phony after a social experiment was exposed as a setup, NY Mag reported in November 2015. In the experiment, Adrian Gee pretended to be blind and asked people to give him change for a five dollar bill, but would hand them a $50 to see if anyone would correct his mistake.
An Australian show ultimately concluded Gee was a fake when they discovered the people featured in the blind test video were actors who responded to a casting call.