Doctors declared Lawrence Popp legally blind in 2004, helping pave the way for the Greendale man to collect $3,200 in Social Security disability payments every month.
Popp, the owner of a distributing company, claimed his income dropped to $9,400 a year from $87,000 once he went blind. The payments were meant to help support Popp, his wife and their two young children.
As it turns out, Popp is not blind, according to a federal investigator with the Social Security Administration. He's been operating several businesses and making hundreds of thousands of dollars, spending on lavish items such as a $25,000 diamond and emerald necklace for his wife, a recently released affidavit for a search warrant states.
Federal agents caught him on video in 2008 driving to a meeting at the Social Security office in Greenfield. He parked his car several blocks away and walked to the office.
During the meeting he "stated repeatedly, and eventually signed a sworn statement, denying he has ever driven since becoming 'blind,' " according to the warrant that was issued in 2009 but unsealed only last month. Popp was federally indicted in March, also under seal. Court documents also indicate he also drove a snowmobile.
A trial is set for Popp, 57, in April.
Popp's attorney, Raymond Dall'Osto, said the case may be resolved short of trial. He said he is limited about what he can say because the case is pending and because of health care privacy laws.
However, he added, "The initial determination of disability (for Popp) was appropriate and he is still disabled and more so," Dall'Osto said.
The federal prosecutor in the case declined to comment.
According to the indictment, Popp illicitly collected $175,000 in disability payments as well as $115,000 in Medicare benefits between 2004 and 2009. In addition he reportedly evaded taxes totaling about $178,000.
Investigators say Popp was laundering money from one of his companies, Refrigerated Equipment Distributors Co., through a "sister" business, Commercial Sales Agency.
In a wiretapped phone conversation in 2009 with his then-ex-wife, Kimberly Popp, Lawrence Popp said he sold his distributing company for $700,000 and did not disclose the proceeds to the Social Security Administration. He also said he paid $2,000 a month for a membership to the Milwaukee Athletic Club.
Kimberly Popp told investigators the couple vacationed regularly in the Cayman Islands and Lawrence Popp had opened a bank account there. That's where he bought her the diamond necklace, she said. The couple divorced in 2007.
Popp signed paperwork in 2004 when he applied for disability benefits, agreeing to notify the department if his medical condition improved or if he were to get a job or generate income from self- employment.
"The facts gathered thus far in the investigation show that the income Lawrence J. Popp reported to the Internal Revenue Service on his federal income tax returns . . . cannot support his lifestyle, his increase in net worth, or his accumulation of assets," the investigating agent, Michael Clemens, wrote in the affidavit. "The facts also show that Popp is falsely claiming that he is blind and underreporting his earned income in order to collect Social Security disability benefits."