tv 2020 ABC May 22, 2015 10:01pm-11:01pm EDT
tonight on "20/20," who's free loading? >> the prosecutors are saying you're a cop that scammed the system. >> we have them caught on camera, claiming they're too hurt to work. but looking anything but disabled on video. a wannabe rock star with a bad arm. does that look like limited mobility to you? plus, the ripoff realtor. >> i'm being ambushed by a news crew. >> renting and selling houses without their owners knowing it.
and, vince and owen step aside. we have real-life wedding crashers, walking away with your wedding gifts. tonight, we're on the hunt, putting on the camo to go undercover. asking the question, who's free loading. here's elizabeth vargas. >> good evening. david is off tonight, but "20/20" is on the case, asking the question, who's free loading? people getting disability, saying they can't work. tonight, they're caught in the act, on tape. here's cecelia vega. >> ladies and gentlemen, these
are your three finalists! >> reporter: beauty contestant shawna palmer appears poised to take home the crown with her bikini-ready body, winning smile, and legs that go for miles. last april, palmer strutted her stuff onstage in long beach, california, hoping to become the next miss toyota grand prix. >> give it up one more time for shawna! >> reporter: but put on the brakes. can you spot the major foot injury that supposedly kept this contestant from being able to do her day job? palmer claimed she hurt her left big toe working as a supermarket clerk. she said the painful injury left her with, quote, "an inability to bear weight" on her foot. but shortly after going to the doctor, prosecutors say she apparently had no problem working it -- in a pair of pumps, no less. insurance investigators arrested palmer on charges of illegally collecting workers' compensation benefits totaling over $24,000. >> she did not lie, whatsoever, regarding her foot injury. >> reporter: she pleaded not
guilty to three felony counts of fraud. >> yes, your honor. >> reporter: you might think suspected offenders of false claims would want to avoid the spotlight. but meet leroy barnes, a professional dancer who claimed total disability after getting hurt on a gig. yet investigators say he's right here, shaking his tail as one of those dancing hamsters in the kia car commercials. barnes stands accused of fraudulently collecting over $50,000 in disability. for now, this hamster's out of his cage. he pleaded not guilty and is free on bail. then there's the curious case of dan slewoski, a chicago-area man who said he was unable to perform his job at the department of public works due to a nerve condition. >> are you ready? >> reporter: but city investigators say he had the nerve to perform in an extreme
wrestling tournament, doing his best hulk hogan, climbing the ropes and fake-pummeling some poor sap, all while on government-paid medical leave. slewoski might look menacing in that ring, but he hid behind his door while answering questions from abc's i-team in chicago. >> what do you do? >> i talk into a microphone. i have no training. i am not a pro wrestler. >> reporter: he's also no longer employed by the department of public works. he resigned last june. so why should we fret about injury-faking freeloaders? >> they get paid for fraudulent claims. that causes premiums to rise. john and joe public pay those price. >> reporter: if only taxpayers knew what this next woman was reffing for a workplace injury.
modupe martin received almost $30,000 in disability payments after claiming she hurt her ankle while working as a school janitor. the insurance company was suspicious and placed martin under surveillance. she certainly looks hurt as she's seen visiting her doctor's office in crutches. but later she's seen running like a gazelle in sky high heels. >> what's going through my mind is she's a big old fake and that she's committing fraud. she's lying to her doctors, she's lying to her employers. >> reporter: but the icing on the cake for investigators was her -- ahem, activity on this day. she starts with another visit to the doctor, her trusty crutches doing the legwork. later, she hooks up with her boyfriend and they head to the park. she may be too injured to go to work, but she's certainly healthy enough to get right down to business. >> she is engaging in, uh, activity with this young man. >> reporter: dare i ask what you mean by activity? >> well, it appears, uh, some sexual activity.
>> reporter: and this is where we have to stop the tape to avoid an "x" rating. and investigators had seen enough, too. martin was convicted of insurance fraud and is serving nine months in jail. now if you think you've seen it all, would you believe someone hired to protect and serve could also be scamming the system? hey, i'm cecilia vega from "20/20." i was hoping to chat with you for a second. last year, i had to chase down one in a group of new york city cops accused of faking ptsd and anxiety symptoms brought on by 9/11. the prosecutors are saying you're essentially a cop who scammed the system. >> that's not, i'm not a cop. >> reporter: you were a cop, at one point. vincent lamantia's case stood out to investigators because after claiming disability, he brazenly flaunted pictures of himself on facebook looking like he was living large. why don't you give me a quick comment, and we'll get out of your hair. >> i really can't. my hair is long, and you're in
it. >> reporter: no more high rolling for him. lamantia pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 days in jail plus probation. he also had to pay back almost $150,000 in restitution. and lamantia's not the only freeloader in uniform. new york port authority police officer christopher inserra collected almost $70,000 in disability for a painful, on-the-job bicep and elbow injury that supposedly gave him "limited mobility." but wait -- who's that headbanger? it's our cop, fronting a heavy metal band called cousin sleaze of all things, flailing his arms, and flexing those muscles. the hunky metal head has since pleaded guilty to mail fraud and turned in his badge. rocker, wrestler, beauty queen and dancing hamster didn't exactly make it difficult for investigators to find them. after all, they're hiding in plain sight. but in most cases, the suspects are pretty coy.
so when there's someone freeloading in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? enter our duo, the moocher busting p.i.s bari and bob who love the thrill of the chase. >> that's our guy right there. that's our mark. bari kroll is part suburban soccer mom and part master of disguise. >> the secret to some of my success is being a woman. it's still pretty uncommon for people to think women are private investigators. >> reporter: she's also not afraid to use her own kid as a decoy. >> it was great having that car seat in the back. it was a great prop. perfect. >> reporter: bari gets hired by insurance companies to check up on people like this man. she says her client told her the man claimed a limited range of motion in his right knee, and was in constant pain. but here he is, biking all over town. the man's claim was dismissed.
but bari says these cases aren't always a full bust. sometimes, they're a dead end. >> it's a glamorous job. you sit here and just stare out the window. this job isn't for everyone. but it is for me, because i'm okay waiting for something to happen. >> reporter: there's the sitting-in-your-car approach, and then there's this. >> there's a big tree on the left. i think that's where we should all meet. >> reporter: catching potential fraudsters is no mission impossible for chicago-based p.i. and abc news consultant bob kiehn. in his downtime, bob likes to skydive and swim with sharks, so it's only fitting that he plans his surveillance stakeouts like an adrenaline-fueled military operation. bob invited "20/20" along as observers on a surveillance job deep in midwest farm country at the crack of dawn.
let's go, bob, let's go do this! the mission -- to get the goods on a farmer suspected of fleecing an insurance company. he claims injuries from a car accident are causing him difficulty with his daily farming operation. so the money shot is what? >> anything he does that makes him look like he's working. >> reporter: since we're out in the bush, this job calls for some black ops. can i just say, this seems a little hardcore here. is this necessary? >> here's the exact reason why we do this. we're completely getting into the elements, to where there's no way they're going to be able to see us. they're going to act completely normal, hopefully, and we'll capture everything they do on tape. >> reporter: i find myself wading through the woods in 40 degree temps. >> don't put your foot there! >> reporter: dang! we pick our way over treacherous ground. >> now we need to go up.
>> reporter: and clamber up steep muddy embankments. >> put your right foot up here. go. >> reporter: until we reach our surveillance point. so this is the house we're going to be watching. we've literally walked for a about mile plus in the dark. >> this is where we're going to set up. we have a perfect view of his house. >> reporter: it takes four hours, but bob finally spies that supposedly injured farmer lifting an object into his truck. we can't show his face because the case is still active. it hardly feels like enough to call the farmer a fraud, but bob says the path to catching a freeloader isn't always paved in gold. sometimes it's caked with mud. so did you get what you came for? >> we got a start. it's something for us to start building a case on. >> reporter: the case has yet to
be resolved, and i have yet to thaw out. despite the tireless efforts of p.i.s like bari and bob, countless people each year keep trying to make an easy buck by faking an injury. back in business here. but our moocher-busting private eyes will be there, waiting behind the curtain and running through the cornfields to get their marks. you've got all this gear, head to toe camo, this seems like a lot of effort. >> you have to have a creative solution, they think they're five steps ahead of us. so to beat that we have to combat it with pretty much extreme surveillance. >> reporter: so you have to outsmart these guys? >> totally. next, it's morning in maryland. and one woman is about to get the wakeup call of her life. >> officers are moving in now.
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imagine coming back to your house after a long absence, and finding someone else living there with a deed of ownership. our gio benitez goes on a police walkup call one ripoff artist will never forget. >> reporter: it's probably not every day that you make a phone call like this -- >> hi, this is shannon again. i'm being ambushed by a news crew. >> reporter: but for real estate broker shannon lee, business as usual is business unusual. we're in this parking lot to ask why she's a bogus broker who doesn't sell houses, but allegedly steals them instead. it's a real estate rip-off popular with con artists all across the country. >> a new kind of foreclosure scam. >> the deals were illegal. >> reporter: in case after case, this scam has targeted houses that owners walked away from after some financial trouble, stuck in limbo before bank foreclosure kicks in. >> it wasn't until she received a gas bill addressed to the deceased former owner that she
did some research and found the deed, which is not in hodge's name. >> reporter: but few fraudsters were as good as police say shannon lee was. her tale begins here in this prosperous corner of prince georges county, maryland, on the day laverne green walked up to her townhouse mailbox. you came over here to check your mail, to put that key in, and what happened? >> right, it didn't work. >> reporter: laverne had enough trouble already. divorcing and downsizing, she and her husband had abandoned their townhouse and faced losing it to the bank. one day she stopped by to check on things, and walked into an unwelcome surprise. the locks are changed? >> this lady comes to the door. and she said that she was renting the property. i'm like, how can you rent this property? this is my house. >> reporter: here's how. the mysterious renters said they got the place through shannon lee, apparently a legit real estate broker. they got her on the phone and minutes later, shannon zoomed up. >> this lady pulls up in this
black bmw, she jumps out of the car, and she said, "well, i bought this property through a tax sale." i asked her, did she have the deeds and everything to the house, she said "oh, yeah, i've got everything." >> reporter: shannon had actually taken control of laverne's house -- then turned around and rented it out. >> nobody suspected that someone would actually advertise a property they didn't own and collect rent on it. >> reporter: state's attorney angela brooks says this type of scam only works if the real homeowner isn't around to notice. but laverne green not only missed her house, she also had connections. >> well, she picked the house of a person who worked for the police department and that's bad luck. that's right, here's laverne at her desk, working for the prince george's county cops. so forget calling 911, all she had to do was walk down the hall to ask co-worker lieutenant charles duelley for help. you must have looked at this stuff and said, this case is crazy! >> it's the most different case
that i've -- that i've worked in my career. >> reporter: duelley got a search warrant for shannon's place and discovered deeds he says were forged for six homes plus evidence of an even bigger scheme in progress. >> i identified probably 15 to 20 other properties. >> reporter: 15 to 20? >> yeah, that had been targeted. >> reporter: duelley believes shannon's devious scheme started with scouting trips, searching for houses that appeared vacant, grass not freshly mowed, no curtains in the windows, all signs of pending foreclosure. so she kept notes of her own potentially illegal activity? >> yes. >> reporter: he says she compiled these meticulous reports of potential targets, noting here that an owner had passed away, that another property was secured with two lock boxes. and even breaking in to take photos like these. shannon's next step -- using a blank deed transfer, adding her name as buyer, bogus seller signatures and a fake notary seal.
the final step, walking into the county records department, to officially enter the forged deed into the public record. then, police say she was ready to cash in. >> we fell in love with it. >> reporter: that's where unsuspecting victims charrise and michael stewart come in. they'd answered an ad shannon lee had posted to rent this house. >> it was everything we wanted in a house and the price was right. >> reporter: so they signed the lease, despite some suspicious red flags. >> from the outside you can see the damage done to the locks of the door, as if someone busted in the door, changed the locks on the door. >> reporter: shannon's excuse -- she had trouble changing the locks. okay, but even stranger, why were there no electric bills arriving from pepco, the local utility company? >> we had been calling pepco every month, like, hey, we're not getting a bill, we're afraid the power's going to be turned off, what's going on? they can't find us in the system. >> reporter: that's because the power had been shut off when the previous owner left. to get it turned back on, police say shannon decided to fool
pepco, dangerously rigging a wire to bypass the meter and pirating the power. pretty gutsy. >> yeah, very gutsy. >> reporter: meanwhile, police say, shannon, along with her alleged partner in crime qiana johnson, were collecting rent from this and other properties they'd stolen and allegedly even sold one for a pile of cash. you believe she really felt like she was going to get away with this? >> yes, absolutely, she had had herself convinced. that the paperwork was of good enough quality on the forgeries that she was, i think she thought she was in the clear. >> reporter: and duelley discovered that shannon and qiana had taken this house hustle to a whole new level. they weren't just renting and selling the pinched properties, they were actually living in some of them, too. >> it's bananas. like, it's honestly crazy. >> reporter: when we come back, it's time for a house call with the sheriff's department.
so sergeant its 6:00 a.m., we're going to that house, she has no idea we are coming. >> that's correct. element of surprise. >> reporter: knock knock, the rent is due! they're going to surround the house, so that when they knock on the door, they're ready. stay with us. ultimate straight. our first shampoo system with kera-tourmaline. translation? starts to seal in the straight before you style. to last up to 48 hours. with l'oreal ultimate straight, my hair is shiny, straight... just perfect. so let's get one thing straight. this works! new ultimate straight from l'oreal paris. that's the power of beautiful hair. every day. because you're worth it. ♪ ♪
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"20/20" continues, with who's free loading. once again, gio benitez. >> reporter: police believe they're hot on the trail of two world class freeloaders, shannon lee and qiana johnson, who've allegedly been amassing an illicit real estate empire on the backs of unsuspecting maryland homeowners. you must have felt pretty powerless. >> i did. i didn't know what to do. >> reporter: after laverne green realized her house had been stolen from under her nose, her colleagues with the local police jumped on the case. so, we're talking about stolen houses? >> yes. >> reporter: what they discovered was a fraudulent real estate scheme as shameless as it was devious.
police say the conniving cons shannon lee and qiana johnson not only forged documents to steal vacant homes, they kept the plusher properties to live in themselves. qiana moved into this sprawling five-bedroom colonial with its big yard. the real owner? donnie small. police say she broke in, changed the locks, says its her house, forged the deed. >> yes. it's bananas. like, it's honestly crazy. >> reporter: donnie and her family had been forced to leave their beloved home long ago when her corporate recruiting job was transferred to california. so, here it is. it's the first time you've been here in three years. >> it's really sickening, because you put your blood, sweat, and tears into buying your dream home, and we had to leave it because of financial situation. >> reporter: struggling to carry two homes, they fell behind on the payments. police say that's when shannon's co-conspirator qiana johnson used the forged deed to move her
whole family in. now, even though we've flown donnie back from california to visit, she legally can't go inside. someone's looking from inside the house. >> i see. i see. >> reporter: she's shocked to see how badly the place has been maintained. is this how you left it? >> no, this is definitely not how i left it. >> reporter: we cross the street to visit her former neighbors. christole white reveals that qiana and crew sold her a story. >> she came over, introduced herself, we stood on the front porch, we talked and everything. so i was like, "oh good, we got cool neighbors." and they said that they were family members. >> reporter: and this is the first time you're hearing, that they claim to be the family members. your family members. >> that is unbelievable. >> yeah, i mean, i know why they would do it, because you probably aren't going to say anything if you think it's my family, you know? >> no, i, i wouldn't, i wouldn't say anything at all. >> reporter: she says quiana
even invited the neighbors over for a barbecue. still, something just didn't seem right. >> after a couple of the cookouts and stuff, i was like, i do not think that they are related to donnie and david. >> reporter: finally, a friend did alert donnie. and police evicted quiana's family. yet hours later, they moved right back in, then had the gall to sue donnie's family to keep living in the place for free. now donnie has a plea for qiana. >> stop suing us. because we're not the ones who are doing something wrong, you're doing things wrong to us, and damaging our lives. >> reporter: but today, after a year-long ordeal, help is finally on the way. so, sergeant it's 6:00 a.m., we're going to that house, she has no idea we are coming. >> that's correct. element of surprise. >> reporter: sergeant lisa smith's team from the sheriff's department in prince george's county, maryland, has a warrant for quiana's arrest, for felony theft, burglary, forgery and falsifying documents.
so officers are moving in right now, and they're going to surround the house so that when they knock on that door, they're ready for whatever she may do. whether she decides to run or answer the door. let's go. ready for trouble, smith and her officers are wearing bulletproof vests. and we're keeping a safe distance now because, as you say, anything can happen. >> anything can happen. she's in custody. we can move up a little bit. >> reporter: minutes later, the officers have roused qiana johnson from her bed and emerge from the house. qiana, gio benitez from abc's "20/20." did you really think you'd be able to convince people this was your house? are you sorry for what you've done? not the way you expected to wake up this morning, huh? donnie< i realize it's like 3:30 in the morning for you right now, but i just wanted to let you know that qiana was just arrested. shannon was also cuffed and booked, shutting down their alleged scheme.
but leaving behind a mess. donnie small and laverne green had to file expensive eviction proceedings to get their houses back. and that family, the stewarts, who had rented from shannon -- they lost thousands of dollars when they had to quickly move out and find a new home. so back at the parking lot the day we caught up with shannon lee, she was out on bail and in no mood to apologize. >> the truth will come out. >> reporter: the truth will come out? >> uh-huh. >> reporter: why'd you steal those houses? >> i didn't steal any houses. >> reporter: that's not what the owners of the houses say. forgery master shannon lee later missed a court hearing, claiming she'd been in the hospital. she handed the judge hospital admission records to prove it. but guess what, they were forged, too. so he moved her into this modern multi-unit dwelling -- the county jail. and just this week we've learned that she'll serve two years after pleading guilty to burglary and forgery. >> she's obviously a very bright
woman who decided to use her talent in ways that would have her go to jail. >> reporter: donnie small is thrilled that co-conspirator quaina johnson was finally convicted of burglary and theft. she will be sentenced next month. >> if somebody was telling me this story, i don't know how much i would believe it. >> reporter: as for scammed renter charisse stewart, what does she have to say to the allegedly duplicitous duo? >> i can't say it on camera. god bless you. >> so, here's our question for tonight. have you gotten involved with crazy real estate deals? use #abc2020. when we come back, wedding crashers showing up and stealing a lot more than just a slice of cake. when we return, wedding crashers.
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life's super scary sounds. and sneaking in without moving the bed. maybe you saw the movie "wedding crashers." it's funny, unless it happens to you in real life. strangers not just crashing t i party, but stealing with us. paula faris with what happens. >> i now pronounce you man and wife. >> i'm gonna get drunk! >> who is that? >> reporter: "who is that?"
the three words a wedding crasher never wants to hear. it's bad for business. >> mazel tov! >> reporter: wedding crashers are skilled at turning your special day into their special day. immortalized on film by vince vaughn and owen wilson, most newlyweds hope to avoid crashers on their big day, but not this bride and groom. >> when they started playing "shout" i thought i heard some champagne popping. i was looking for them. >> reporter: dan and jessica miele got married here in westchester, new york, when we decided to soft crash their wedding. they were great sports. the beautiful bride even confessing she might want to dabble in a crash one day. you don't mind that we're crashing your wedding, do you? >> no! actually it's on our bucket list. we've always wanted to crash a wedding. we haven't done it yet, but it's on our "to do." >> reporter: so what is this fascination some have with going where they're not invited? is it the free food? the open bar? that's what one bride and groom
wanted to know after their wedding photos and videos included these fun loving freeloaders. >> i asked around my side of the family and my husband's side of the family to make sure it wasn't someone i just hadn't met before and nobody had met them. >> reporter: the two can be seen boogying on the dance floor, drinks in hand, practically going out of their way to be noticed. and now the perfect strangers are permanently part of this newlyweds' photo album. >> they're all over mine and i can't really focus on the people that i want to focus on. >> reporter: krista reilly took to facebook to try and match a name with a face, and the local media turned up the drama. >> the mystery of the identity of the wedding crashers has been solved. >> reporter: for krista, at least, turns out the wedding crashers themselves noticed they had gone from the hunter to the hunted and reached out privately to the bride to apologize. krista wouldn't reveal their identities. she says she forgives, but with
this wedding album, how can she forget? >> i think it's tacky. i think it's rude. because that's someone's special day. >> reporter: you may not know the name, but you should recognize the type. wedding crashers are not shy. they're coming to eat. they're coming to drink. they're coming to dance! and sometimes, they're coming for more. watch, as this guy enters the beautiful tustin ranch golf club in california. cops say he swiped up all the cash and gift cards at a wedding reception here. the suspect checks to see if the coast is clear, then covers the gift box with his jacket and makes a quick getaway. cops picked him about a month later and charged him with burglary and grand theft. this pennsylvania guy was also caught after slipping into receptions and stealing 12 grand in cash, gifts and even the bride's shoes! he finally got an invitation, but from a judge who sentenced him to a minimum of four years.
back at the miele wedding, we spotted their gift box. it was positioned right where the experts say it should be, behind the couple, away from the exits and with security standing nearby. how much do you think is sitting over there? >> 40? 30? >> thousand? wow, so you better have some security guards. >> we do. >> reporter: so if i tried to make out with the gift box and make a mad dash out of here and sneak out of here what would you do? >> i'd tackle you. >> reporter: i'm a girl. >> i know, but he told me i have to. >> reporter: wedding crashers thrive, because most guests at a celebration don't want to ask that awkward question -- "who is that?" but when they do, things can get pretty heated. just watch this scene from "what would you do?" >> we wanted to see what would happen when guests discovered crashers at a wedding. >> reporter: the bride and groom were in on it, but the guests were not. >> who do you know?
>> who do you know? >> are you here with bridget's side or -- >> with john's. yeah, i know john. >> the bride and groom both don't know you. >> okay. >> sit down. you sit down. you don't crash people's weddings like that. >> i'm sorry. i can leave right now. >> no, you're not leaving. you're going to be arrested. >> reporter: if wedding crashing seems like a young man's game, don't tell that to sherry stanfa stanley. >> i was excited, filled with trepidation. >> reporter: the writer from ohio decided it was time to break out of her comfort zone and break into a reception, complete with cover story. >> my name was shelly. if they asked who i was, i said i was with jim miller who worked with the groom. >> reporter: sherry had planned it all out. socializing with guests, enjoying a cold beer, until the bride threw something at her. the bouquet landed at sherry's feet and all eyes were now on the wedding crasher. >> everyone is staring at me. >> reporter: it was the one
thing sherry hadn't planned on. but sherry is a crasher with a conscience. before exiting, she left a card and gift for the happy couple. so if you must crash a wedding, crash with class. to wedding crashers! mazel tov! >> cheers. >> so, have you ever been at a wedding with a crasher? if so, tweet us. use #abc2020. >> next, we've got him in our sights. he's behind the wheel of the boat, but claiming he's blind. a tale of checks, lies and videotape. >> why did you lie in the interview? >> when "20/20" returns. save on everything for summer fun,
set up to catch him in the act. here's rebecca jarvis. >> okay. 8:03 a.m. conducting surveillance on lawrence popp. >> reporter: you're watching a federal sting operation in progress. lawrence popp has no idea he's being tailed by government agents, and they might want to exercise caution. because no matter what -- you're in popp's blind spot. at least that's what the milwaukee businessman led people to believe when he was claiming he was too blind to drive. but now, all eyes are on him as federal agents tail popp. larry had been collecting social security disability payments for his blindness for years, all the while living the high life -- traveling the world and spending like there's no tomorrow. >> lawrence popp is walking towards the social security office now. >> reporter: he's here today to make sure those payments keep on coming. he ditches the car a block away so as not to attract attention. >> mr. popp, will you come here please?
>> reporter: in fact, by the time his interview with a government claims rep begins, there's no mention of any car. >> so you don't drive at all, is that right? >> no. >> reporter: what popp can't see is that agents have set him up in a simple but elegant trap. listen as this disarming claims rep cleverly extracts details about larry's painful life without sight. >> so you can't really read anything that's unmagnified? >> right. no. >> you can't do almost anything that you used to do? >> no. my lifestyle has changed radically. >> reporter: but the tape reveals one thing lawrence popp is very good at -- lying. >> do you declare under penalty of perjury that the information you've given me is true and correct to the best of your knowledge? >> yes. >> i have seen tons and tons of people like this in my career.
>> reporter: you remember abc news consultant bob kiehn. he's that private eye whose weapon of choice is a video camera. we asked kiehn to give us the tale of the tape. >> people in popp's position get comfortable. they get comfortable to the point of they're getting away with it. so i'm gonna get away with more and more. he took it to the extreme. >> reporter: popp actually did have legitimate vision impairment back in 2004 when he signed up for benefits. but he promised to notify the department if his medical condition improved or if he were to get a job or generate income. well his eyes did get better and he generated plenty of income, but freeloading larry decided to keep those details to himself. >> can you use a computer? >> no. what happens when i start doing that my eyes get very strained and i get in a lot of pain. >> reporter: but his co-workers saw a very different side of larry. his then vp dave hartlerode says
larry was a fixture at the office, despite supposedly being unable to work. and what would he do at work? >> basically work from his computer. >> reporter: on his computer? >> email correspondence with, with people within our industry. >> reporter: how did he get to work? when he was telling social security that he couldn't drive and he couldn't see? >> all i know, that he was driving to work. >> reporter: he drove himself? >> yes. >> reporter: meanwhile, investigators say larry was living large. his car is spotted outside the milwaukee athletic club where memberships cost thousands of dollars a year. there were also trips to italy, florida, the caymans. he even spent time driving a motor boat towing water skiers around a lake. >> larry is a person that likes money, wants to always be in charge.
>> reporter: oh, yes. then there's the ex-wife. who confirms larry's lavish spending, but said the same rules did not apply to her. >> i was on a strict budget. we had nothing joint together. he would go out and buy cars without me knowing. >> reporter: not only could he overspend, he could overact. at times, appearing to tear up at the social security office in a truly oscarworthy performance. >> this is kind of reliving it, so i'm sorry. >> i'm sorry, yeah, i don't mean to do that to you. >> no, no. it's got to be done. >> reporter: even popp's own lawyer didn't buy his act. >> is he really crying? >> he was definitely not telling the truth here, and he knew he was not telling the truth, and was part of it an act? perhaps. >> reporter: so what do you think it was about larry's case that tipped them off? >> i know what it -- i know what it was. you had a ex-wife who dropped the dime. >> reporter: yes, kimberly is indirectly responsible for
helping to take down the bogus blind man. the tipping point -- when the irs came after her, claiming she owed thousands in back taxes. it turns out lawrence popp had applied for benefits, not just for himself, but for the entire family and pocketed every dime. ultimately, you're the one who turned him in. >> i wasn't gonna take the fall for something he was doing that was illegal. i didn't have $13,000 to pay the government. i didn't collect $13,000. so, why should i take the fall for something he did? >> reporter: in all, the feds say larry fraudulently collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in government payments. prosecutors say it was time to call the blind man's bluff. >> it is entitlement. it's about the continuation of a lifestyle that you've become used to, again, without justification, both medically and legally. >> reporter: in january of last year, popp's freeloading days came to an end.
he was sentenced to a year in jail and had to pay the stolen money back. if he hadn't been caught red-handed, do you think he'd still be bilking the system? >> absolutely. it's his nature that he thinks he can get away with it, so he's gonna do it. >> reporter: larry was recently released from prison. and on a frigid milwaukee morning, he gave "20/20" the cold shoulder. rebecca jarvis, abc news. are you sorry for stealing that money from taxpayers? why did you lie in the interview, sir? what would you say to anyone who is lying right now, who's taking disability insurance but doesn't really have that? >> eventually, you're going to get caught. and then you will have to pay the price. 'cause what comes around goes around.
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