Shreveport trauma surgeon found guilty of stealing more than $200,000 in Social Security benefits
SHREVEPORT, La. – Following a trial that began on Monday, a federal jury returned a verdict of guilty today on all counts charged in the prosecution of a 58-year old Shreveport surgeon for stealing more than $200,000 in Social Security disability payments, announced U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph.
The jury deliberated for approximately ten hours before finding John T. Owings, Chief of Trauma at Louisiana State University – Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, guilty of 20 counts of theft of government property and one count of concealing or failing to disclose an event affecting right to a government benefit.
The United States presented evidence during trial showing that Owings applied for disability benefits in 2008 and continued to receive those benefits through June of 2017, after returning to work in 2012. When Owings went back to work as a surgeon at the University of California-Davis in 2012, making $22,000 a month, he failed to tell the Social Security Administration (SSA) about his return to work. In 2013, LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport hired Owings as its trauma chief, paying him over $40,000 a month. Owings never disclosed his employment at LSU Health Sciences Center to the SSA. Owings took disability insurance benefits throughout his employment at the University of California-Davis and LSU Health Sciences Center that he was not entitled to.
“Protecting taxpayer money from fraud is a priority of my office,” stated U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph. ”We will hold accountable those who try to defraud the government and wrongfully take money intended for those in need. This verdict shows the strength of the evidence in this case and underscores the hard work of the Social Security Administration investigators and prosecutors in my office.”
“Today’s guilty verdict affirms Social Security Administration’s, Office of the Inspector General, mission to combat fraud, waste and abuse,” said Terry L. Brown, Acting Special Agent in Charge, SSA OIG Dallas Field Division. “The dedicated work by OIG agents and the Shreveport United States Attorney’s office resulted in the protection of United States citizens and the Disability Insurance Trust Funds.”
The SSA is responsible for the implementation of the Disability Insurance Benefits Program under Title II of the Social Security Act. The SSA provides monetary benefits to individuals who have worked and paid taxes to SSA. To be eligible for monthly cash benefits, individuals must have been deemed medically disabled and must have been unable to maintain gainful employment.
Pursuant to SSA regulations, a claimant must prove to SSA that he or she is disabled by furnishing medical and other evidence with the application. The application and supporting evidence would then be evaluated by SSA to determine the individual’s medical impairments and determine the effect of the impairment on the claimant’s ability to work on a sustained basis. Recipients of Social Security disability insurance benefits are required by federal law to report any changes in their medical or employment status to SSA, including any work activity, whether compensated or not. Eligibility for Disability Insurance Benefits is conditioned on the recipient’s lack of employment income during the period when the disability benefits are paid.
United States District Judge Elizabeth E. Foote presided over the trial and will sentence Owings on May 29, 2019. Owings faces up to ten years imprisonment for theft of government property and five years imprisonment for concealing or failing to disclose an event affecting right to a Title II benefit. Owings also faces up to three years supervised release and a $250,000 fine for each count.
The Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Seth D. Reeg and Leon H. Whitten prosecuted the case.