An Orange County sheriff's deputy was convicted of insurance fraud on Tuesday, just as a Costa Mesa cop had been five days earlier.
Nicholas "Nick" Zappas, 36, of Laguna Niguel, was convicted and sentenced to six months in Orange County jail and three years informal probation for committing insurance fraud by failing to disclose his true physical abilities and activities to his health care providers, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA).
Zappas had been an OC deputy for 14 years by the time April 2, 2015, rolled around. That day, while working Harbor Patrol and engaged in a boat rescue, he tripped over a fire hose and fell on his back. That led him to file a workers' compensation insurance claim for injuries to his left shoulder, left side of his neck and lower back. Zappas was placed on work restrictions of no lifting, pushing or pulling greater than 10 pounds by a medical doctor due to his complaint of pain. The sheriff's department assigned him to dispatch.
However, between May and November 2015, Zappas engaged in CrossFit, the high-impact exercise with varied functional movements. How do investigators know? Because he appeared on video engaging in CrossFit, lifting substantial weights in excess of 200 pounds and performing box jumps, burpees, squats and other activities. The thing was, those intense physical activities were contrary to the limitations imposed by Zappas' doctor, at least based on the deputy's description of his pain, symptoms and limitations. But don't blame the M.D.s: Zappas failed to disclose that he was participating in CrossFit to his physicians, the OCDA says.
In May 2015, the county discovered Zappas was CrossFitting and reported it to the OCDA Bureau of Investigations, which launched a probe. On Dec. 1 of that year, while under oath during his deposition, Zappas denied lifting anything over 20 pounds since the date of his injury and claimed that he could not pick up anything heavy, could not do squats and could not run. The investigation further revealed that from January-May 2016, Zappas continued to engage in CrossFit and did not disclose his abilities to his doctors.
He pleaded guilty Tuesday to six misdemeanor counts of insurance fraud and besides the jail and probation he was ordered to pay restitution of $34,838.97 to the County of Orange and $1,000 to the Worker's Compensation Fraud Assessment Fund. Zappas is also required to dismiss his 2011 and 2015 worker's compensation claims as part of his probation, the OCDA says.
The case of Ryan Patrick Natividad is similar, although the 32-year-old Corona resident did not cop to the charges against him. A jury on Thursday found the former Costa Mesa Police Department officer guilty of one felony count of insurance fraud and one felony count of making a fraudulent statement. He could get up to six years in county jail at his April 7 sentencing.
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On Sept. 23, 2014, Natividad reported a work-related injury to his CMPD superiors, falsely claiming that earlier in the day he struck his hand against a brick wall near the city jail while booking an arrestee. Natividad claimed that the perp stumbled into the wall, prompting the cop to use his hand to prevent the poor sap from striking the wall.
Natividad filed a fraudulent workers’ compensation insurance claim and was subsequently directed by CMPD to seek immediate medical attention, the OCDA explains. But he made the mistake of listing a jail employee as a witness to the incident in his injury paperwork. That employee reviewed the jail surveillance camera footage, determined that Natividad's hand did NOT hit the wall and brought the video to his supervisor’s attention.
The footage was submitted with Natividad’s workers’ compensation insurance claim to the City of Costa Mesa. The city, its insurance company AdminSure and a private investigation firm hired by the insurer investigated Natividad’s workers’ compensation insurance claim and reported the fraud to the OCDA.
Perhaps Zappas and Natividad will bump into some old friends in county jail. But look out for those moving fire hoses and brick walls, boys!