Ex-prison guard charged with workers’ comp fraud

A lengthy investigation and surveillance videos led to a 47-year-old former prison guard being charged with fraudulently collecting more than $2.7 million in workers’ compensation payments. David Brownell was arrested Wednesday in Tampa and freed from the Hillsborough County Jail on $50,000 bail.

As a state of Florida employee, Brownell’s claim was paid by the state Division of Risk Management, which reported he received more than $563,000 for alleged lost income.

Brownell filed a workers’ compensation claim in 1995 claiming that his work had exposed him to rats and rat feces that resulted in respiratory problems and 24-hour-a-day dependency on oxygen. However, investigators for the Department of Financial Services said extensive video surveillance over several years show that not only was Brownell not oxygen-dependent but was able to play guitar in a band, drive vehicles and smoke cigarettes.

“It is very disheartening to think that someone sworn to uphold the law may have violated it, and to such a costly degree,” CFO Jeff Atwater said in a prepared statement announcing Brownell’s arrest.

Brownell was arrested while wearing an oxygen mask. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Officials estimate such forms of fraud raise premiums for businesses and take an estimated billion dollars a year out of Florida’s economy. The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fraud reports that this year through the end of September its fraud unit has built cases leading to 121 arrests and 78 convictions resulting in $1.5 million in court-ordered restitution.

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