From: The Mercury News
By: Robert Salonga and Nico Savidge, 2/01/2019
When investigators met her at a Las Vegas-area Starbucks last year, they recalled Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Lt. Mandy Henderson walking slowly and gingerly, leaning on her husband’s arm to steady herself. In the middle of their conversation, she even reportedly stopped to lie down on a bench after complaining of deep pain.
Mandy Henderson. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
All of it was planned, detectives say, to secure millions of dollars in potential disability benefits. In the days before and after that coffee shop meeting, the 41-year-old was actively engaged in bodybuilding — all caught on camera.
Back in the Bay Area on Friday, Henderson appeared to stand normally, and walked on her own power into a San Jose courtroom, where she was arraigned on charges of criminal and insurance code violations involving workers compensation fraud.
“I believe that (suspect) Mandy Henderson has no intention or motivation to come back to work on a modified or alternative basis,” Sheriff’s Detective Brendan Omori wrote in an investigative report that accompanied the charges, “because she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada prior to being granted an industrial disability retirement.”
The county estimated that had it been approved, Henderson would have received about $3.3 million in disability retirement payments over a life expectancy of 82 years.
Henderson, who appeared in court with attorney Julia Fox, did not speak during her brief appearance Friday afternoon, and declined comment outside the courtroom. She remains free on bail — posted a few days after her Dec. 26 arrest in Las Vegas — and is due back in court on March 5.
Christine Garcia-Sen, the county’s supervising deputy district attorney for economic crime, said it’s relatively rare for an individual employee to be prosecuted for workers’ compensation fraud. Most of her unit’s cases involve larger-scale allegations against employers.
“When people do that they should be held accountable, regardless of what their occupation is or who their employer is,” Garcia-Sen said.
Dave Wong, the county’s workers’ compensation director, said such crimes sap limited public resources.
“Filing a fraudulent workers’ compensation claim diverts funds that should be used to pay valid claims, or that could be used to provide county services to vulnerable residents who need help,” he said in a statement.
The Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation in January 2018 based on suspicions that Henderson was lying about being physically unable to perform her job — a claim backed by a medical evaluation by Palo Alto-based Dr. Steven Feinberg.
Feinberg’s 23-page written evaluation asserted that Henderson could no longer perform 20 of 31 “essential job functions,” physical tasks that included frequent walking, jogging a mile in 12 minutes, stair climbing, occasional bending, and driving a patrol car. Henderson already had an existing workers’ compensation claim stemming from an on-the-job injury Henderson reported in October 2015.
After receiving the doctor’s note, a county claims adjuster requested Jan. 3, 2018 that the Sheriff’s Office find “an alternate or modified position” so that Henderson could continue working. Around the same time, the county workers’ compensation division hired Immendorf & Company Investigations to conduct surveillance on Henderson in Las Vegas, according to sources familiar with the case.
Over several days, private investigators surreptitiously followed and recorded Henderson as she drove a car by herself, carried her child, and went to a local gym, according to the Sheriff’s report. At the gym, Henderson was reportedly seen using a treadmill and stair-climber, lifting weights, and performing strenuous strength training, including but not limited to shoulder presses, bench presses, push-ups, and leg lifts.
In his report, Omori wrote that Henderson was “very open about competing in body building competitions and her nutritional habits.” He noted that “Henderson’s workouts seemingly could not be performed by someone that had physical limitations. I believe the evidence suggests that (suspect) Henderson was exaggerating the extent of her injuries and disability.”
The Sheriff’s Office contacted Henderson to request an in-person meeting at the agency’s San Jose headquarters. But Henderson reportedly refused to do so, contending that she was on morphine and other prescription drugs to manage her pain, and that it would be “problematic” for her to ride in an airplane because she “has a lot of pain sitting down for long periods.”
Henderson also said during one of the phone calls that “she is unable to raise her young child normally due to her physical limitations and that she lies down on the couch for the majority of most days,” Omori wrote.
Eventually, a Sheriff’s captain and a county health injury prevention coordinator flew to Las Vegas on Feb. 7, 2018 to meet Henderson. In the days leading up to that meeting, the report states, the private investigators followed Henderson and recorded her driving and working out at the gym.
At the Starbucks, authorities said, Henderson presented a starkly different physical image than what the surveillance reportedly captured and how she appeared on Friday. She was helped out of her car by her husband Ken, a law-enforcement veteran most recently with Santa Clara police, and during the meeting reaffirmed that she was physically limited.
About 30 minutes after the meeting, the report states, the private investigators recorded her at a daycare walking “at a normal pace and in a seemingly unrestricted manner.” Over the next two days, Henderson was recorded working out at the gym. Sheriff’s investigators later confirmed that between May 2017, when she first moved to Las Vegas, and when the private surveillance ended in February 2018, Henderson checked in at the gym 208 times.
Additionally, in contrast to Feinberg’s examination concluding that Henderson has a “disability … limiting her to sedentary work,” a November 2017 physical evaluation by Las Vegas-based physical therapist Karen Crawford found numerous inconsistencies and concluded that “Henderson’s observed movements do not match her pain ratings or other subjective complaints.”
Through his office, Feinberg declined to comment for this story, citing medical privacy restrictions.