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Shreveport trauma surgeon sentenced for stealing more than $200,000 in Social Security Benefits

SHREVEPORT, La. – Acting United States Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook announced that John T. Owings, 60, of Shreveport, Louisiana, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Elizabeth E. Foote to 21 months in prison, followed by 2 years of supervised release, for stealing Social Security benefits. Owings was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $200,434.70.

Owings, who was formerly the Chief of Trauma at the former LSU Health and Sciences Center in Shreveport (LSUHSC), was convicted by a federal jury in February 2019 of 20 counts of theft of government property and 1 count of concealing or failing to disclose an event affecting right to a government benefit. The United States presented evidence during the trial showing that Owings applied for disability benefits in 2008 and continued to receive those benefits through June of 2017, after returning to work in 2012. When Owings went back to work as a surgeon at the University of California-Davis in 2012, making $22,000 a month, he failed to tell the Social Security Administration (SSA) about his return to work. In 2013, LSUHSC hired Owings as its trauma chief, paying him over $40,000 a month.  Owings never disclosed his employment at LSUHSC to the SSA. Instead, Owings took disability insurance benefits throughout his employment at the University of California-Davis and LSUHSC that he was not entitled to. Owings used the benefits to pay for personal expenses and fund his coin collecting hobby.

“Despite being a highly-paid, working trauma surgeon, Dr. Owings took advantage of a program that is designed to benefit those who are in need of assistance due to their inability to work,” Acting U.S. Attorney Van Hook said. “I would like to thank the agents with the Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General for doing such an outstanding job on this case and other cases such as this by seeking out those individuals who take advantage of a program designed for the disabled. We will continue to prosecute those who abuse the system in this way.”

The SSA is responsible for the implementation of the Disability Insurance Benefits Program under Title II of the Social Security Act.  The SSA provides monetary benefits to individuals who have worked and paid taxes to SSA.  To be eligible for monthly cash benefits, individuals must have been deemed medically disabled and must have been unable to maintain gainful employment.

Pursuant to SSA regulations, a claimant must prove to SSA that he or she is disabled by furnishing medical and other evidence with the application. The application and supporting evidence would then be evaluated by SSA to determine the individual’s medical impairments and determine the effect of the impairment on the claimant’s ability to work on a sustained basis.  Recipients of Social Security disability insurance benefits are required by federal law to report any changes in their medical or employment status to SSA, including any work activity, whether compensated or not.  Eligibility for Disability Insurance Benefits is conditioned on the recipient’s lack of employment income during the period when the disability benefits are paid.

The Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation.  Assistant United States Attorneys Seth D. Reeg and Leon H. Whitten prosecuted the case.