A Helena jury convicted a Plains man Thursday of one count of theft by common scheme, a felony, of worker’s compensation benefits provided by the Montana State Fund.
Mark Duane Sheehan, 45, was employed at Riverside Sand & Gravel in October 2009 when he alleged an injury to his left shoulder while operating heavy machinery, according to an affidavit filed by the Attorney General’s Office. Sheehan began receiving $1,252 in bi-weekly temporary total disability benefits from Montana State Fund shortly thereafter.
In January 2010, the Montana State fund received a call from Riverside Sand & Gravel expressing concern that Sheehan seemed unmotivated to return to work. Additionally, the caller said that in the weeks leading up to his injury, Sheehan complained to co-workers that his work impeded his ability to be a trapping guide. A game warden for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed later that Sheehan had harvested four bobcats in December 2009, despite claiming to be too injured to work.
In May 2010, video surveillance conducted by the Montana State Fund investigation team showed Sheehan working at a construction site in Plains, despite having complained of ongoing shoulder pain to his doctor. In June 2012, a State Fund investigator and a detective from the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office observed Sheehan at the Plains construction site again.
The Attorney General’s Office filed charges in Montana’s First Judicial District Court in Helena in May 2012. The trial lasted three and one-half days and the 12-person jury returned a verdict after 45 minutes of deliberations, finding Sheehan guilty of one count of theft by common scheme in an amount exceeding $1,500.
Judge Jeffrey Sherlock, presiding over the trial, set sentencing for April 11, 2013. Sheehan faces a possible maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine. The State alleges that Sheehan stole more than $5,990 in benefits that he was not entitled to receive and will be asking the Court at the sentencing hearing to order Sheehan to pay restitution to the Montana State Fund.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said, “I want to acknowledge two people who worked particularly hard on this case. First, Assistant Attorney General Mary Cochenour here at the Montana Department of Justice for a remarkable second workers’ compensation fraud conviction in two weeks. Kudos also to State Fund Claims Examiner Karen Horne, who suspected fraud early on and referred the case for investigation. The Montana Department of Justice will continue to partner with Montana State Fund to stop people who want to cheat our work comp system and drive up the cost of premiums.”
On February 20, a Helena jury convicted Perry Joseph Penfield of Ronan of two felony counts of theft of worker’s compensation benefits following a joint investigation by the Montana Department of Justice and Montana State Fund.