"Wicked Tuna" Television Star Sentenced for Social Security and Medicaid Fraud

Wednesday, June 8, 2016
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From the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Vermont:

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced that Paul Hebert, 51, of Gloucester, Massachusetts, formerly of Barre, Vermont, was sentenced today for Social Security fraud and Medicaid fraud.  Chief District Judge Christina Reiss sentenced Hebert to a four-year term of probation, a $5,000 fine, and ordered to pay restitution totaling $53,660.

According to Court records, Hebert applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in May 2009 while residing in the State of Vermont.  After Hebert’s application was denied, he requested a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  During that hearing, Hebert made multiple material false statements under oath regarding his ability to perform basic life activities, such as driving and lifting household objects.  Yet before and after the hearing, Hebert worked as a commercial fisherman.  Hebert’s material false statements resulted in the Administrative Law Judge finding him to be both disabled and financially eligible to receive SSI benefits. 

On November 18, 2010, Hebert received formal notification of the approval of his SSI application, and was informed of his obligation to review his prior statements regarding his income, correct any errors, and report any future changes to the Social Security Administration (SSA).  The November 18, 2010 letter included Hebert’s prior statements that he had no income beyond state assistance.  In fact, Hebert had been gainfully employed on commercial fishing vessels throughout October 2010.  Hebert proceeded to collect SSI disability payments until April 4, 2013 by direct deposit into his bank account, totaling $34,555.88.  In addition, Hebert signed a contract on September 13, 2011 to appear on the reality television show “Wicked Tuna,” with shooting that began on September 25, 2011, and regularly occurred thereafter.  Episodes of “Wicked Tuna” began to air on television in April 2012.  In total, defendant Hebert received approximately $2,565 of earned income in 2009; approximately $8,301.81 of earned income in 2010; $13,114.29 of earned income in 2011; and $38,893.05 of earned income in 2012; all while he continued to receive SSI disability payments.  None of this income was declared to SSA, as required by law.

On February 24, 2009, Hebert applied for Medicaid through the Vermont Agency of Human Services while he was residing in Vermont.  Questions on his initial application, designed to ascertain whether he was financially eligible for Medicaid, included whether he owned a vehicle, whether he had income, whether he lived with anyone, and whether he owned real estate, a mobile home, land, or a house.  Hebert falsely responded that he lived alone, had no income, had no vehicles, and did not own any listed assets. 

Hebert received notice, as part of the Medicaid program, that he was obligated to report changes in circumstances from those listed on the form.  He was also required to complete interim reports with the Vermont Agency of Human Services.  In his October 6, 2011 interim report, Hebert declared he had no new income when, in fact, he had received income from fishing since 2009, and had just begun shooting the television show 11 days prior to completing the report.  In total, Medicaid claims of $9,506.59 were paid for health care services provided to Hebert in the State of Vermont before his benefits were terminated in approximately October 2012.  At no point did Hebert report his changes in income or the above asset transactions as he was required to do. 

“It is outrageous that Paul Hebert pretended to be disabled and poor in order to collect Medicaid benefits, while at the same time starring as a captain of a fishing boat in a national TV reality show,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip M. Coyne, Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, Boston Regional Office.  “Our agency will continue to work hard with our law enforcement partners to protect this taxpayer-funded program from such fraud schemes.”

"Mr. Hebert falsely claimed to be disabled and concealed income information to defraud Social Security and the State of Vermont, while his tuna fishing activities were featured in a reality television series," said Scott Antolik, Special Agent-in-Charge of the SSA Office of the Inspector General, Boston Field Division. "This is an unacceptable offense, because Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid are intended to benefit our most vulnerable citizens. As this case demonstrates, the SSA Office of the Inspector General is committed to upholding the integrity of these critical programs through collaborative efforts with State and Federal agencies."    

United States Attorney Eric S. Miller commended the efforts of the SSA Office of Inspector General, Boston Field Division; HHS Office of the Inspector General, Boston Regional Office; and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, in the investigation and prosecution of Hebert. Miller added, “Mr. Hebert’s flagrant abuse of the Social Security system is galling.  He demonstrated a profound disrespect for the taxpayers who fund our social safety net and for the Vermonters who must rely upon it to help meet their most basic needs.  I am pleased that our prosecution forced Mr. Hebert to repay every cent he stole.”

Hebert was represented by Paul S. Volk, Esq.  The United States was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan A. Ophardt.