The attempts of the Country of Orange, California, to crack down on instances of workers’ compensation fraud took an unexpected twist last week when a sheriff’s deputy was charged with fraudulently obtaining more than $35,000 in unearned benefits.
Orange Country began its workers’ comp investigation in May 2015 when other County employees reported that Nicholas Zappas was posting photos online that aroused suspicion.
Zappas, of Laguna Niguel, was charged with 18 felony counts of knowingly failing to disclose his true physical abilities to medical providers. Zappas, who is 36, was also charged with lying under oath, and, if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of 16 years in prison.
The charges allege that Zappas claimed to sustain an injury to his neck and back while working on a fireboat when employed by the Sheriff’s Department’s harbor patrol division in April, 2015. Zappas said the injury made it difficult for him to lift the heavy equipment required for the harbor assignment and was put on modified duties. At the same time, Zappas is alleged to have been seen surfing, skiing and moving furniture in his spare time, as well as lifting heavy barbells at a gym.
“Our employees are conscientious and work hard every day,” County Executive Officer Frank Kim said. “We won’t tolerate an employee who acts in a manner that disrespects his or her fellow workers.”
“Workers’ compensation fraud harms businesses across the state,” Board Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, Fifth District, said. “We will vigorously investigate and defend the County against any type of theft of public funds.”
The arrest is the fourth of a County employee alleged to have falsely claimed on-the-job injuries in the past two years. Two of those arrested were convicted and paid a total of $53,733 in restitution; the third is awaiting trial.
The case is being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office’s Insurance Fraud unit and the County is seeking more than $38,000 in restitution.
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