“You wouldn’t mind if I… you know… videotaped us working out, would you?” I said to Lifter Guy, a man I suspected of fraud. “Just to look at my form and stuff?”
“No problem. You gonna put it on YouTube or something?” Lifter Guy responded.
“Yeah,” I smirked, “something like that.”
Little did Lifter Guy know that I was a Private Investigator (P.I.) working undercover to videotape him powerlifting while defrauding the workers’ compensation system.
This was a standard workers’ compensation insurance fraud case. My client hired me to catch an employee of hers (Lifter Guy) who’d just injured himself on the job. Lifter Guy separated his shoulder while doing construction work and was now off work for several months to rehab his injury.
But there were rumors from other employees that he wasn’t quite telling the truth. He had been an amateur powerlifter in his home state, and his social media profiles indicated that he was still heavily involved in weightlifting.
Each day he was receiving up to two-thirds of his paycheck despite never actually working, and my job was to help the claimant eliminate those losses. In order to catch him, I did a few days of surveillance on the guy and attempted to get compromising video of him working out.
My first few days on the case weren’t proving fruitful. In addition to his local home, Lifter Guy also had another home where his wife lived, which was several hours away. As a result, I couldn’t pinpoint his location day-to-day.
So I dug deeper.
After scouring the Internet for any leads and cross-referencing those with the preliminary investigation, I finally tracked down his email address. Using his email address as the search term, I got a hit… and a juicy one at that: Lifter Guy was advertising his powerlifting training services on Craigslist.
This was the perfect opportunity to help my client by capturing video of this fraud in action. But how would I pull this off without him catching on to my ruse?
Well, I wouldn’t be a P.I. if I didn’t accept the challenge. So I set up the trap. I contacted Lifter Guy to solicit his services, planning to later take some video using a covert camera.
I placed a phone call to the number provided on Lifter Guy’s Craigslist post. He answered. I told him my first name and that I was interested in powerlifting with him. He said he’d be happy to teach me. We talked for a while and set up the first session. We planned to meet at his uncle’s construction business for our first workout. The plan was set.
Two days later, I headed to his meeting location — but this wasn’t your average home gym. Instead, it was just a large aluminum garage with construction debris, leftover parts from old equipment, and huge tires everywhere. A tricked-out black Ford Mustang was parked in the gravel lot, and death metal music blasted from his subwoofers.
I pulled into the lot and exited my car slowly, a little uneasy about this whole scenario. I hadn’t slept well the night before as I was a bit fearful as to what might go down.
And then there he was — 215 pounds of pure muscle. Not too tall, but definitely one tough-looking dude. Lifter Guy was wearing a white wife-beater, had black serpentine tattoos all over his body, and a freshly-shaved head — intimidating, to say the least.
Dude had already worked up a sweat, and the top of his forehead glistened. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sweating as well, but for totally different reasons.
I looked him in the eye, reached out my arm, and we shook hands. I introduced myself.
“I’m [Lifter Guy],” he said, “let’s get to work.”
The truth is, it’d be a more interesting story if I was some scrawny guy who had never lifted in his life that might get blown over by the sheer vibrations of the death metal noise blaring from this guy’s speakers. But the opposite was closer to the truth. I’d been lifting for months on my own, and by the time we started the first lift, I was ready. I was no fraud.
But I let him lead the way.
We entered the “gym” together. There were dumbbells and plates everywhere. He had a squat rack and bench press setup. We immediately started lifting tremendous amounts of weight.
First exercise: Power Hang Cleans.
For perspective, power hang cleaning 200 pounds without ever having practiced a rep would rip out an average person’s rotator cuff. So it surely would have resulted in excruciating pain for someone who claimed they had just separated their shoulder. But that’s where we started, just for warm-ups.
This guy didn’t hold back. He was intense, and for a guy claiming he was injured, he was certainly showing no signs of it. Rep after rep, he worked. No problems.
My turn now. He showed me the form briefly, and I busted out my first rep. No problem there either. After several reps, I got the hang of it. Soon after, I was holding my own.
I wasn’t worried about the lifting portion of this operation, but the real question was “How was I going to bust this fraud?” I decided that getting a video of Lifter Guy attempting to throw out his back on these lifts, “separated shoulder” and all would be the best evidence I could get for my client.
My plan was not to get video the first day. Instead, I decided I was going to lure him into the trap by getting acclimated with him, and then start to build a relationship. When it came to the video, I wouldn’t be able to use a covert camera because it might be too obvious. Typically covert cameras can be placed into a shirt to look like a button, or they can look like a pen and be placed in the shirt pocket. But since I was wearing workout gear, it’d be impossible to have a camera on me. I quickly realized I’d have to straight-up ask the guy if I could videotape him. So that’s when I brought in my regular camera and asked if I could roll some tape. Luckily, he agreed. My plan was coming to fruition.
I set up my camera on a table in the corner of the room and we continued our powerlifting session. Next, we did an exercise that strongest man competitors and Crossfitters would know well: tire flipping.
He started out by slinging 500 pounds of rubber across the room and back like a rag doll. Still no ill effects from him. Then, he had me flipping the tire. He showed me the correct form so that I didn’t rip apart my biceps, and in no time I was flipping these masses of rubber around the gym floor with ease. Every move I made he was yelling for me to go on.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “he must truly believe I was into this.” Indeed, I was.
We completed a few more less-intense exercises, and, after our session, Lifter Guy motioned for me to sit in a chair across from him. Uh oh. Was he on to me?
“Why do you want to power lift?” he asked.
I answered by mentioning I played softball and that someday I wanted to be the best. I mentioned that in order to compete with the roided-out freaks who hit balls 500 feet, I needed to be stronger.
He bought it.
Then, he talked for about 30 more minutes on nutrition, legal supplements, and form. I listened quietly and intently.
Afterward, I shook his hand and we parted ways. He didn’t even charge me for the session. Instead, he told me to call him to book another session.
Surprisingly, Lifter Guy may have looked intimidating, but he was actually quite the opposite — he was a really friendly guy. Far from what a “fraud” was.
Over the next couple of days, I met two more times with Lifter Guy. We did squats one day, followed by chest the next. I captured about two hours of video of him and I working out. He showed no signs of being hurt. And the best part was that this was important evidence.
Once I gathered the evidence, pulled together a detailed report, and presented the package to the client, we used it to prove Lifter Guy was abusing his work restrictions. He wasn’t as hurt as he said he was, and the video proved it.
The end result is that Lifter Guy eventually settled his workers’ comp claim altogether. It saved my client tons of money. On top of that, I got in a few free powerlifting sessions and one helluva good story.
If you’re a private eye in training or just want to catch someone in the act, here are a few key takeaways:
- Be the student, not the teacher. People just want to talk about themselves and what they’ve learned. So let them.
- Have your backstory ready. Mine was that I was a softball player wanting to get to the next level. Own that story like Leonardo Dicaprio vying for the Oscar.
- Capture your compromising evidence legally. The key was that I asked permission to enter my subject’s property and then asked to videotape him. If you don’t have permission, your video or report could be thrown out in court.
- Work hard so you can get lucky. The saying goes, “the harder you work, the luckier you get.” Had I not been working out heavily on my own, my cover would have been blown.
Special thanks to the editor, Jason Godfrey.