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Official: Menard Prison Guards Committed $10 Million Worth Of Fraud

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(CBS)

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BELLEVILLE, Ill. (CBS) — Guards at Menard prison downstate may have committed millions of dollars’ worth of fraud stemming from workers’ compensation payments, the state Department of Corrections has told lawmakers.

As WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports, department director Tony Godinez made the comments last month in a little-publicized appearance before the House Appropriations-Public Safety Committee, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports

Godinez says it appears the guards, in big numbers, falsely claimed they were injured when they turned keys. They then applied for workers compensation benefits after claiming to be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome of the wrist and cubital tunnel syndrome of the elbow.

The alleged scheme went on from 2008 through 2010, and netted about $10 million in taxpayer-funded settlements, Godinez told the committee.

“I think there’s fraud,” Godinez told the committee. “I’m sorry to say that, but I’ve been working in this business a long time and was (warden) at Stateville for 12 years, some 12 very hard years, and I never saw claims like I’ve seen since I’ve been back.”

Godinez was responding to questions from Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) during an April 18 hearing. He noted there is no reason for keys at Menard, a maximum security facility, to be turned more than at minimum or medium security facilities.

Godinez has been director for about a year. He said he believes there are some “bona fide” claims made by Menard employees, “but some of those don’t match up.”

Corrections department spokesman Stacey Solano said Godinez’s comments were an observation based on his long career in corrections and that the department has cooperated with the ongoing investigation.

“He remarked that this situation is something he has not seen before in his experience,” Solano said. “He did not predict the outcome of any ongoing investigation.”

In June, the News-Democrat uncovered an expert report commissioned by the state of Illinois that showed locking and unlocking prison cells didn’t cause repetitive trauma injuries in guards. Despite the findings of the 2008 report, the state continued to grant workers’ compensation claims to guards, the paper reported.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)