Suspect first attributed ear problems to firing a rifle in late 2021 but later indicated to doctors that it was result of COVID-19 infection
A former employee of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office was arrested on Sept. 15 on a charge of Worker’s Compensation Fraud, the Sheriff’s Office has announced.
Neil Joseph Wilson, 53, whose address was not provided on the Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division record, worked as a deputy for 15 years — from January 1998 to September, a news release said. He was assigned to the Patrol Bureau, the release noted.
He was placed on administrative leave Sept. 6 following an investigation by the Florida Department of Financial Services into a suspected fraudulent worker’s compensation claim, the release explained.
“The claim, which spanned 13 months, resulted in a $30,522.03 loss (amount paid to date), with the total amount incurred listed at $64,033.26,” the release pointed out.
“Following the outcome of the investigation,” the release continued, “the Department of Financial Services presented its case to the State Attorney’s Office.”
On Sept. 13, 12th Judicial Circuit Court records show, Assistant State Attorney Amanda Morris, in State Attorney Ed Brodsky’s office, filed a document charging Wilson with one count of Worker’s Compensation Fraud involving $20,000 or more, but less than $100,000. The Sheriff’s Office news release said that that count is a second-degree felony.
The Corrections Division record shows that Wilson was released on bond of $7,500 the day of his arrest. His arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 17, the record notes.
“The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office holds its employees to a high standard of conduct and behavior,” the news release said. “The actions demonstrated by Mr. Wilson do not reflect the vision of the agency or its values of integrity, respect, service, and fairness. As such, the sheriff’s office recognizes the importance of informing the public of our commitment to the community and to ensure we strictly adhere to those values,” the statement added.
Details of the case
An affidavit by Investigator Shelby Stroik of the Sheriff’s Office’s Command Investigations division, included in the court docket for Wilson’s case, explains that Wilson reported having been injured in a “work-related accident” that occurred on Jan. 12, 2022.
The Investigative Summary Report — also included in the court docket — points out that Wilson said that he had suffered with tinnitus, “or ringing in his ears,” after having COVID-19 in January 2022 and that the infection could have contributed to the problems he was experiencing after the January 2022 incident.
Nonetheless, the affidavit says, “Mr. Wilson represented the cause of his injury” so he could receive worker’s compensation benefits.
The summary notes that, on Nov. 29, 2021, “Wilson visited the First Physicians Group [in Sarasota] and was treated by Dr. Kevin J. Dunn. “Wilson’s chief complaint was pain and hearing loss after shooting guns in Tennessee. His right ear was plugged and ringing. The History of Present Illness section of the doctor’s notes [states,] ‘Hearing loss right side only, Tinnitus occurring in the right ear only.’ ”
Wilson was prescribed medication for use three times a day, for six days, the summary continues.
Then, on Dec. 1, 2021, the summary says, Wilson visited Shea ENT Physicians Hearing Clinic in Sarasota, where he was treated by Dr. Roger Shea. Again, Wilson complained of recent onset of tinnitus “after shooting a rifle 10 days prior,” the summary notes. “Wilson reported an immediate high-pitched ringing and fullness in his right ear after firing two shots,” the summary adds.
Wilson told Shea that Wilson’s primary care physician had prescribed medication, “but it did not provide much benefit,” the summary points out.
“Shea conducted a full exam of Wilson,” the summary continues, finding no problems with his ears. Then Shea administered an injection into Wilson’s right ear, the summary says. Shea also recommended that Wilson continue with the medication that he had received from his primary care physician and return for a follow-up exam in one week.
During that second visit with Shea, the summary adds, Shea found that Wilson had seen no benefit from the Dec. 1 injection or from the medication prescribed by his primary care physician.
Then Shea told Wilson to return in one month or sooner if the problems persisted.
The summary proceeds to recount numerous other visits that Wilson made to physicians’ offices for treatment, including appointments at the Silverstein Institute and the Marlowe & Marrs practice, both in Sarasota.
On Dec. 23, 2021, at the Marlowe & Mars Ear, Nose & Throat practice, the summary points out, Dr. Andrew Marlowe found that Wilson was experiencing partial hearing loss, which was worsening. Marlowe added in his notes that the hearing loss had “been present for two months,” having developed gradually.
Nonetheless, the summary says, Marlowe found no physical problems with Wilson’s ears. Marlowe recommended that Wilson adhere to “a hearing protection regimen,” avoid loud noises and wear “appropriate hearing protective gear,” the summary points out.
On Jan. 19, 2022, the summary continues, Wilson had a telemedicine visit with a doctor at the Concentra Medical Center in Sarasota. Notes from that session said that Wilson was being treated in the aftermath of a positive COVID-19 test on Jan. 11, 2022. “Wilson stated he felt fine and had already returned to work,” the summary adds in reference to the discussion with the physician at that urgent care facility.
On May 4, 2022, Wilson had his first doctor’s visit regarding his worker’s compensation claim, the summary says. He complained to the doctor at the Concentra Medical Center that he had suffered with right-side tinnitus after having COVID in January of that year. The doctor’s notes about that visit indicated that Wilson had been treated by his primary care provider and a nurse. “He has been on multiple steroid packs,” the summary adds, “but nothing has helped.”
However, the Sheriff’s Office Command Investigations summary reports that investigators found “no indication in any medical record, prior to this visit, that Wilson attributed or related in any way,” that his tinnitus and hearing loss were related to COVID.
The summary also provides details from several Sheriff’s Office interviews with the physicians who had treated Wilson.
The document adds that the investigation had revealed the following:
- “Prior to filing his First Report of Injury, Wilson made nine visits to five different medical providers,” complaining of hearing loss, ringing in his ears and tinnitus.
- “Four different doctors treated Wilson prior to January of 2022.
- “From the date of his first provider visit, November 29, 2021, until the date of the First Report of Injury,” in May 2022, “only five months had passed.
- “The doctor’s notes in each medical record, although worded differently, indicate that Wilson related his condition to shooting a rifle while in Tennessee.”
- When Wilson participated in the telemedicine visit with a Concentra Medical Center physician on Jan. 19, 2022, he did not mention that, on Jan. 17, 2022, he had visited the First Physicians Group, complaining that his right ear pain was worsening, “with loud noises especially … Hearing loss is worse on the right and seems to be moving to the left. … Hearing is getting muffled and Tinnitus is getting worse.”
- During visits to health care providers on Feb. 28, 2022 and April 22, 2022, Wilson “made no mention of his belief that his hearing condition was related to having [COVID].” The provider on April 22, 2022 was seeing Wilson for the first time; that doctor’s notes “indicate Wilson’s chief complaint was Tinnitus and hearing loss from firing a rife,” the Sheriff’s Office summary adds