Jury Acquits Boston Bodybuilding Firefighter of Fraud Charges

August 16, 2011

A Boston firefighter who claimed disability benefits due to a back injury but still competed as bodybuilder has been found not guilty of fraud by a federal jury.

Albert Arroyo was acquitted on two counts of mail fraud by a jury in U.S. District Court in Boston in a case that drew a lot of media attention.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, in a statement after the proceeding, called the verdict a “disappointment.”

During the trial, Arroyo testified that exercising helped ease the back pain he felt and that he feared if he did not exercise, he would have to undergo surgery on his spine.

Arroyo, who was first hired by the Boston Fire Department in 1986, said he first injured his back while on the job in 2000. He took time off with pay for physical therapy in 2000, in 2002 and again in 2007, according to the indictment. He was reassigned to the building inspection unit, which did not involve fighting fires.

Claiming that the back injury he suffered in 2000 had worsened due to a recent fall on the stairs at the Jamaica Plain fire station, he applied for disability retirement benefits in 2008. He claimed he was permanently and totally disabled and applied for full benefits.

A medical doctor supported his claim that he was “totally and permanently” disabled.

At trial, Arroyo said he was pressured into filing for the benefits by supervisors in the fire department.

City officials said they learned he was competing as a bodybuilder and playing on a men’s baseball team and they claim he hid his bodybuilding and other activities from medical doctors.

The city contended that Arroyo was capable of performing his duties as a building inspector for the fire prevention unit and tried to get him back to work. He never returned.

The city’s retirement board terminated his benefits.

Arroyo’s lawyer, Timothy Watkins, said that the jury was able to consider all of the evidence amid a lot of public criticism. “The public didn’t know the facts. The system worked,” Watkins said.

The Boston Globe first reported on his bodybuilding activities in July 2008, igniting a media firestorm.

The mail fraud charges stemmed from mailings the city says Arroyo sent through the Post Office relating to his retirement application.

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