More than 15,000 public employees in Massachusetts are out of work, but still getting a paycheck because they’re considered persons with disabilities.
FOX Undercover is raising questions about how the state keeps tabs on them after an unusual example surfaced involving a retired prison guard who has been off the job since 1995 because he says he is too injured to work.
45-year-old Mark Lovell appeared to be at the top of his game when he won two first-place awards in March at the 2015 Powerhouse Classic in Connecticut.
Online videos show Lovell prepared for that competition for months and has been weightlifting for years.
Lovell also documented his bodybuilding victories by posting pictures of himself competing on Facebook.
Records obtained from the state show Lovell stopped working as a prison guard in 1995 when he was 26-years-old after being injured on the job three times, including being punched by an inmate.
He’s collected a tax free disability pension ever since, which paid him $33,197 last year.
We showed Lovell’s workout video to Joe Connarton, the executive director of PERAC, the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission. PERAC oversees the thousands of state and local public employees on disability in Massachusetts.
“Does this look like someone who’s disabled?” asked FOX Under cover’s Mike Beaudet.
“ No,” said Connarton. “Looking at the video and looking at the record, it’s inconsistent. No doubt about it.”
Lovell, like others on disability, has had to randomly submit medical records to PERAC and the state has determined he is “still unable to perform the essential duties of his job.”
But Lovell has never seen one of the state’s doctors’s since he retired 20 years ago. People on disability are not required to unless there’s a red flag.
Connarton says Lovell must now see a state doctor, but deflected a question about whether people on disability should be randomly subjected to check-ups with a state doctor.
“We’re complying with the statute in play at the moment – if the legislature amends that statute, we’d be happy to follow that direction,” said Connarton.
FOX Undercover caught up with Lovell after he posted on Facebook that he returned to the gym for his first workout since undergoing hernia surgery. He suffered that injury while working at a construction site in East Boston, according to another Facebook post.
“First time I’ve worked out since November. I just went in, did a little cardio and workout,” said Lovell who is adamant he is unable to work as a correction officer.
“My spine is fused. I’d sever my spinal cord if I had a head injury,” said Lovell. “I’d be paralyzed.”
We also showed video of Lovell to Dr. David Kim, an orthopedic spine surgeon at New England Baptist Hospital who has performed spinal fusions.
“He looks like he’s doing pretty well,” said Kim. “I have several patients who work in prisons. Those patients typically do very well and we expect them to experience if not a complete recovery, a near complete recovery.”
If the state doctor who evaluates Lovell determines he could go back to work at the prison, he would then go before a three member medical panel, which would have to unanimously agree.
But PERAC’s executive director concedes his office may not be able to force Lovell back to work. because he would have to return as a correction officer.
For his part, Lovell denied heavy weightlifting, despite video evidence to the contrary.
“You don’t have to lift a lot of weight to be in shape. It’s 80 percent diet,” said Lovell. “It’s genetics and diet. I have looked this way since I’ve been twelve.”