Martin Lobatos must be a really good driver, because he passed his test with no sweat when he was supposedly on the verge of catatonia.
That was par for the course in one of the weirdest-ever workman's comp cases -- a years-long scam for which Lobatos and his wife, Belen, have both entered guilty pleas.
According to the grand jury indictment against the pair, on view below in its entirety, Martin was working as a roofer back in September 2008 when he fell six to ten feet from a ladder, face first, causing him to briefly lose consciousness -- although that's in dispute. He was taken to Vail Valley Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with a wrist fracture, two broken ribs and a closed head injury that caused a small abrasion and some swelling.
No question Lobatos suffered significant injuries. However, a CT scan on his head and neck came back negative, and he was discharged from the medical center the same day he was admitted.
Lobatos filed a workman's comp claim on September 30. But after returning to work full-time on October 21, he began complaining of headaches, dizziness, vertigo and blurred vision. An MRI on October 28 didn't show any reason for these symptoms, but he claimed that they persisted. A doctor who examined him the following April couldn't find any medical reason for his continuing issues, determining that he'd reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) and assigning him what the indictment describes as a "zero-percent impairment rating."
Shortly thereafter, Lobatos was fired from his job, giving him more time to negotiate a settlement with Pinnacol Assurance. He eventually turned down a $20,000 offer (he wanted $50,000) and underwent a new medical examination. This time, he added several grabby items to his list of ailments, including increased memory loss, difficulty recognizing his own children, inability to use stairs without help, pain caused by eating, chewing, bright lights and the weather -- and he was apparently convincing. The second physician rejected his predecessor's findings, determining that the MMI ruling was premature.
That October, Martin, accompanied by Belen, began seeing a medical pro of their choice, Dr. Edwin Healey, and the roster of maladies expanded again to include personality changes, inability to drive and suicidal thoughts. Healey determined that his patient was "totally and permanently disabled," and Martin did his best to prove it. Sometimes he talked about wanting to stab himself with a knife, seeing shadows and hearing people scream at him. But beginning in March 2010, he presented himself as being catatonic. He was immobile and unresponsive behind a pair of dark glasses, only occasionally rousing himself to offer guttural sounds and random body movements.
Sounds terrible -- so bad that Pinnoacol agreed to pay the Lobatos $4,000 per month for in-home care, supplemented by thousands more in total temporary disability payments and the like. But in December 2009, before and after doctor appointments where he outlined crippling issues, he took and passed a driver's test written exam and eye test. And in February 2011, after doubts about his condition led him to be put under surveillance, he was seen visiting a transmission repair shop, a ranch supply store, a Wal-Mart, a western wear store, a food store, a restaurant and a church. He was also spotted in his backyard, overseeing the construction of a shed.
All of which makes him the liveliest catatonic of all-time.
Video of these activities was shown to Belen following two more appointments in which she insisted that Martin remained in a practically vegetative state. According to the indictment, she claimed that he had good days and bad days -- and admitted skipping over the good ones.
No medical degree is required to determine that bad days are ahead for the couple. Martin has now pleaded guilty to theft and making a false statement on a worker's comp claim -- violations that could earn him up to a $750,000 fine and as many as twelve years in prison for the theft charge alone. Likewise, Belen entered a guilty plea regarding theft and a false workman's comp statement, too. She could face a maximum $500,000 fine and six years behind bars.
On the positive side, though, Martin should be very well rested.
Look below to see a larger version of Martin's mug shot and the aforementioned indictment.
More from our News archive: "Colorado's No. 1 in fraud complaints: Greeley, Boulder, Fort Collins & CO Springs in top 15."
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