A U.S. Postal Service mail carrier who claimed more than a decade of total disability related to a back injury he suffered in 1989 had his conviction affirmed by a federal appeals court Tuesday after evidence from surveillance and social media posts proved he was able to perform tasks he had claimed he couldn’t.
Rodolfo Vázquez-Soto had a history of back problems when he filed a workers compensation claim in 1989, and upon returning to work after a 45-day period of paid leave, he was granted limited work duty and accommodations for his back pain, according to documents in United States of America v. Rodolfo Vázquez-Soto, filed in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
For the next nine years, Mr. Vázquez-Soto continued to work for the USPS with limited duty assignments and was annually examined by a physician, who continued to support his limited duty assignment. In 1998, he filed a recurrence claim, asserting that his original condition had worsened. Upon being evaluated by two doctors, each recommended that he could continue working with a reduced schedule and accommodations. For over a decade, he continued to file claims for total disability, according to documents.
In 2012, the USPS began investigating Mr. Vázquez-Soto’s lifestyle after it saw that he had collected $448,000 in benefits but only $8,000 in medical benefits. Investigators with USPS’s Office of the Inspector General gathered evidence on social media that showed him participating in the activities of a motorcycling group and surveillance footage performing a variety of activities — lifting items, driving, riding a motorcycle — that he had claimed he could not do, according to documents.
A jury eventually convicted Mr. Vázquez-Soto on two counts of making false statements and one count of theft of government property. A judge later sentenced him to five years’ probation and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $19,340.79, according to documents.
On appeal, he argued that the court had abused its discretion in admitting into evidence photographs taken from a Facebook page under the name of his ex-wife, in that it did not authenticate the photographs, among other claims.
In affirming his conviction, the appeals court wrote: “We conclude that sufficient evidence supported Vázquez-Soto’s convictions, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing admission of the challenged Facebook photos despite an authentication objection or in its response to the jury’s request for a transcript.”