Phantom Injuries: Caught on Tape

Allegedly fake disabilities and free rides -- often paid for with your tax dollars.
6:41 | 04/12/13

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Transcript for Phantom Injuries: Caught on Tape
Police. We've had some complaints about con men pretending to be blind and crippled. I'd love to help you man, but I saint seen nothing since i stepped on that land mine in vietcong back in '72. It's rough. Reporter: In the movies, faking injury to make a buck is a tried and true scam -- until, that is, you're busted by the cops. I can see! I can see! I have legs! Reporter: Edd's made a remarkable recovery -- but he's got nothing on real life con artists caught on tape. Ignacio maciel collected disability payments after claiming he hurt his back working at a department store cosmetics counter. Watch as he limps to his doctor's office for an appointment. But this doc must be a miracle worker. Maciel immediately heads to the gym where he's caught on camera burning up the elliptical machine, pumping iron -- even taking a 45-minute exercise class. The payoff for all that hard work? Hard time. In 2011, maciel was convicted of insurance fraud. Catching fake injury scammers is just another day at the office for southern california p.I. John is hakala. His personal "hall of shame" includes this man hakala says he caught at the driving range, despite his supposed back, neck and arm injuries. Talk about a no handicap golfer! When he's out on a stakeout, video camera. Reporter: Weapon number one. Hakala comes armed with the tools of his trade -- hidden cameras to catch the suspect in the act -- even one in a cigarette box. You're a sneaky guy! You have to be. Th are pretty sneaky, themselves. Reporter: According to hakala, it took years of surveillance to get the goods on this guy, who hakala says claimed to have injuries to his knee, back and arm. Yet here he is, loading a heavy lawnmower into the back of his pickup truck. Maybe he went to lourdes and bathed in the fountain over there and got healed. Reporter: Behold! A similar miracle on the streets of san mateo, california. Our subject? Modupe martin, who collected almost $30,000 in disability payments after claiming she hurt her ankle while working as a school janitor. The insurance company was suspicious and placed martin under surveillance. She certainly looks hurt as she's seen visiting her doctor's office in crutches. But later, she's seen running like a gazelle. In sky high heels, no less. What's going through my mind is she's a big old fake. She's committing fraud. She's lying to her doctors, she's lying to her employers. Reporter: But the icing on the cake for investigators was her activity on this day. She starts with another visit to the doctor -- her trusty crutches doing the legwork. Later, she hooks up with her boyfriend and they head to the park. She may be too injured to go to work but she's certainly healthy enough to get right down to business. She is engaging in activity with this young man. Reporter: Dare I ask what you mean by activity? It appears some sexual activity. Reporter: And this is where we have to stop the tape to avoid an x-rating. And investigators had seen enough, too. Martin was convicted of insurance fraud and is serving nine months in jail. Why is this worth doing, running a scam like this, that takes so much energy? What are they getting out of it? Big, big payday. With very little effort. Doesn't cost the person a penny. Reporter: And if you think you've seen it all, please consider the curious case of james farkus cohan. Cohan is notorious for filing more than 180 lawsuits against los angeles businesses, including this bike store, this beauty salon and this tire store. His m.O.? According to these business owners, an ingenious shakedown. He demands fat payouts claiming the businesses haven't made the necessary modifications to accommodate his severe disability. He hit businesses up and down the street here. Reporter: Pizzeria owner chris caminiti says many businesses simply paid cohan off for a few thousand bucks rather than take on the expense of fighting him in court. It's a terrible, you know, terrible circumstance and a lot of our neighbors were victimized and paid him. Reporter: Business owners say during court appearances, like this one, cohan certainly looked like a suffering senior. In fact, in a court document, cohan claimed he had "end stage emphysema," which he said limited his ability to "walk, work, speak and breathe" and required him to use a wheelchair and oxygen tank. But a suspicious business owner made a surprising discovery about cohen and tipped off our l.A. Affiliate kabc, which shot this video of cohan outside his home in 2011. Apparently, the fresh air had worked wonders for that "end stage emphysema." The wheelchair and oxygen tank were nowhere in sight. Just the bronzed, if slightly saggy, torso of the 72-year-old as he trekked up this steep slope. We just saw you take a pretty nice hike up that hill. Any explanation for that? Why don't you talk to my attorneys or doctors about that? Reporter: The business owners sued by cohan gathered at a local bar to screen the footage of their suddenly nimble tormentor. He's in better shape than i am. He's hiking with his dog! He's actually waiting for the dog to catch up. He wants to be in good shape to spend all the money he's getting from everybody. Reporter: But guess what? Cohan later showed up in court, his condition had apparently taken a turn for the worse. Cue the crutches. You really can put down the crutches now. We know you can walk. I can walk, yes. And sometimes I have trouble. Reporter: Kabc's expose helpners win their cases and cohan's now in even more trouble. He's accused in a different scheme of bilking government agencies out of benefit money. He's pleaded not guilty. . So, for all you wannabe scammers out there, watch out. The investigators are on the prowl with their cameras, just waiting to bust you. They always think that, "i'm such a small fish, who's going to bothe"

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