BUFFALO, N.Y.– U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that Richard Klaffka, 56, of Holland, N.Y., was charged by criminal complaint in connection with the defendant’s receipt of benefits from the Veterans’ Administration and Workers’ Compensation under false pretenses. Klaffka is charged with making false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, and fraud. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Rogowski, who is handling the case, stated that according to the complaint, beginning in 2008, Klaffka told the Veterans Administration that, due to an injury connected with his military service in 1978, he was confined to a wheelchair and unable to engage in everyday activities like walking, driving and dressing himself. The defendant was already receiving benefits for the service related injury and was appealing for a significant increase in those benefits. Although his initial application for the increase was denied, after a successful appeal, the increase was granted and made retroactive resulting in a significant lump sum payment.
The complaint further alleges that in order to get Workers’ Compensation benefits from his employment with the United States Postal Service, the defendant falsely claimed that his mobility was limited due to a work injury, that he was only able to walk with the assistance of a cane and could not lift more than five pounds.
The complaint then outlines instances where investigators observed and recorded the defendant engaging in strenuous activities. In one instance in 2013, Klaffka was observed driving to the Veterans’ Administration Hospital and lifting a wheelchair from his vehicle. The defendant then placed himself in the wheelchair and his wife pushed him into the hospital. After his appointment, Klaffka’s wife pushed the defendant back to the vehicle where he got out of the wheelchair without assistance, lifted the chair back into the vehicle, and drove away.
The defendant was also observed playing horseshoes for hours at a time and then riding a bicycle. In another instance, the defendant went on a cruise and was observed engaging in a wide variety of activities not consistent with being confined to a wheelchair or otherwise limited in physical capacity. According to complaint, Klaffka is receiving over $9,000 per month in tax free benefits from both government entities as a result of his false claims.
“This Office is committed to ensuring that public money intended for those who are truly in need is not stolen by one who lies about his true physical condition,” said U.S. Hochul. “Instead of applying the well-known quote ‘[t]here is no substitute for hard work,’ to honest labor, the defendant stands accused of working to perpetuate a lengthy fraud against taxpayer funds.”
The charges were the result of an investigation on the part of Special Agents of the United States Veterans Administration, Office of Inspector General, Criminal Investigations Division, under the direction of Jeffrey Hughes, the Veterans Administration Police Department, under the direction of Acting Chief Steven Coville, the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert L. Panella, and the United States Postal Service, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Monica Weyler, Special Agent in Charge, Eastern Area Field Office.
The defendant is scheduled to appear in before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr., on March 20, 2014, at 10:00 a.m.
The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.