- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A judge has ordered that a St. Mary’s woman, convicted of twice making false statements to obtain federal disability benefits, report to prison as early as next month, a penalty her lawyer reports will not become official until restitution in the case is resolved.
Federal prosecutors announced last week that Darlene M. Altvater, 48, of Mechanicsville was sentenced to serve five months in prison and five months of home detention.
Altvater, injured while working with the U.S. Postal Service, later collected disability payments for seven years as she operated a gym and other businesses, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Court filings posted online in the case included a letter that Altvater submitted last week to the trial judge, in which Altvater wrote of her “deepest remorse and regret for my character in the offense,” and also of “mitigating circumstances” that should be considered.
“At no time did I ever intend to defraud the government of workers’ compensation benefits which I thought I was entitled to receive,” Altvater wrote.
Altvater was employed as a rural carrier at the Mechanicsville Post Office, until an on-the-job injury to her head and neck made her eligible in 2001 to begin receiving the federal workers’ compensation benefits, according to the prosecutors’ office. Altvater continued to receive workers’ compensation benefits based on her disability, including from January 2005 through December of 2011, while she was operating a salon, day spa and fitness center, first in Leonardtown and later in California, under the names LadySlender LLC, Creative Touch Salon and Spa and California Fitness LLC.
Altvater filed forms with the postal service and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation programs claiming that she was unable to work due to her disability, according to a statement from the prosecutors’ office after the trial, where “witnesses testified that Altvater reported to the salon on a regular basis, performing physical acts, including demonstrating the use of the fitness equipment, performing pedicures and giving massages.”
Altvater wrote last week that she “made decisions” based on paperwork she got from the postal service and Labor Department, that she found a modified job assignment by calling other post offices, and that an initial investigation about her operating her own business resulted in no forfeiture of her benefits.
She was removed, however, from her modified postal service work, according to her letter, and although her union and the postal service reached an agreement to put her back on her job, she had no success in getting called back there to work.
“With what I knew to be true in my mind, [it] seemed to be a reasonable decision to continue with the business, with the knowledge and belief that I was not defrauding the federal government since I had been removed from my USPS job,” Altvater wrote, later adding, “I was in the state of mind that the government knew about the business and that I was permitted to carry on.”
After Altvater was convicted, her lawyer at that proceeding sought a new trial in the case in part on grounds that “there was no evidence presented to establish that any false statements, material omissions or other deficiencies in the forms were the cause of the defendant’s receipt of workman’s compensation benefits, or that she would not have otherwise received the same benefits.”
The prosecutors’ office reported after the March 27 sentencing hearing that it has not been determined how much in restitution that Altvater will be ordered to pay.
James E. Crawford Jr., Altvater’s current lawyer in the case, wrote this week that while the court determined that her active sentence would be five months of incarceration, “the court is still considering restitution, and has not officially entered the judgment until such time as restitution is resolved.”
U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow’s order from last week authorizes Altvater to report to prison on her own by surrendering to federal marshals, but not before May 20.