CIBOLO, Texas - The United States Department of Justice has released footage showing an Army veteran who told doctors he could no longer walk mowing his lawn and walking around his front yard.
The footage, gathered over several months by undercover investigators with the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, was used in June to convict 54-year-old Mack Cole Jr. of federal health care fraud and making false statements about a health care benefit program.
The video clips were released to the KSAT 12 Defenders following a Freedom of Information Act.
Cole was convicted after federal prosecutors convinced a jury that he exaggerated the extent and severity of a lower back injury for more than seven years in order to get "inflated payments" from the Veterans Affairs Disability Compensation Program.
By misrepresenting the scope of his injuries, Cole was able to receive a higher level of benefits, adaptations to his home and durable medical equipment, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Cole, a retired Army master sergeant, remains free on bond while awaiting sentencing in September.
He faces up to 50 years in prison.
Among the clips is footage of Cole being pushed in a wheelchair outside of the San Antonio VA hospital.
He is also shown standing with a walking cane before bending down to move a motorized scooter off a lift attached to his vehicle, according to a description of the video provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Other clips show Cole pushing a lawn mower up hill in the front yard of his Cibolo home, at one point bending down quickly to toss away debris.
The footage stands in stark contrast to statements Cole made to VA doctors about his back injury following a National Guard training incident in 2004.
According to Cole's federal indictment, he told doctors in November 2010 he no longer had "any ability to walk" and "dreams of walking again."
Five months later, he said he "no longer walks because of fear of further impairment and last walked in January of 2011."
In October 2011, Cole said he was "unable to raise (his) leg and (was) not walking at home."
In September 2012, Cole said he "cannot stand without help and cannot walk without help. Cannot move feet."
In November 2013, less than three months before Cole was indicted by a federal grand jury, he was photographed in a wheelchair shaking hands with college football icon Herschel Walker during an event at Fort Sam Houston's Warrior and Family Support Center.
An official with the WFSC, which provides services to wounded veterans and their families, referred all questions about the event and Cole to U.S. Army North.
A public affairs officer for Army North told The Defenders we would need to file a FOIA request to get answers about services provided to Cole and whether the WFSC is attempting to recoup any money from Cole.
Cole's case is part of a nationwide increase in VA fraud investigations.
According to a Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report, VA investigators opened 111 health care cases during the first six months of this fiscal year and were able to obtain more than $125 million in court ordered fines and restitution.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on Cole's case until after he is sentenced.
Reached via telephone, Cole said he wanted to do an interview about his case. He then called back and asked The Defenders to call his attorney.
Cole's attorney said neither he nor Cole would comment about the case until after sentencing.
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