On a summer day in 2008, an Illinois Department of Corrections worker secretly watched as Calvin Landis, who had been receiving weekly total disability payments for five years for a back injury, moved furniture from his front porch, climbed a ladder and power washed his house.
Using a telephoto lens, the observer snapped photos as Landis, 45, a lieutenant on disability leave from a Du Quoin prison boot camp, performed about an hour of work at his home on Birch Road, a few miles from the camp. The photos showed Landis lifting an 8-foot step ladder by a rung with one arm, wielding the power wash spray head and scrubbing aluminum gutters by hand.
Landis, who said he retired late last year and receives about $59,000 annually tax free, or $1,134 per week, in state disability pension and occupational disability benefits, explained in a telephone interview Thursday that despite what his doctor said was a disabling back injury suffered on the job in 2003, he could sometimes do work.
"For a few days, every now and then, I can do well," he said. "It's sometimes four or five days in a row. I can't explain it. On good days, my doctor said move around if you can. I can't do that every day."
The photos were submitted to Landis' supervisors at the Department of Corrections. Internal state agency e-mails obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat showed that corrections department administrators requested an investigation for possible violation of Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission rules.
But no investigation resulted, according to copies of the department e-mails. For the past two years, Landis' checks kept arriving, according to comptroller's office documents.
On Thursday, after the News-Democrat asked about the photos and e-mails, officials at the corrections department referred Landis' disability case file to the Illinois Department of Insurance fraud investigation unit.
"This matter is being referred to the Department of Insurance as part of the ongoing investigation of the state workers' compensation process. IDOC is cooperating fully with that investigation," spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said.
Landis responded: "It's the days you don't see in the snapshots that I can't move much. I welcome an investigation."
Landis, who said he has had four surgeries on his back, is the third downstate Illinois prison supervisor referred this month to the fraud unit, which is investigating hundreds of workers' compensation claims by guards at the Menard Correction Center in Chester and other state workers for repetitive trauma injuries and other claims.
Recently, after stories reported in the News-Democrat, the Department of Corrections referred the workers' compensation claims of Menard's warden, Dave Rednour, and Lt. Jay Ziegler to the fraud investigation unit.
A photo showed Rednour in September 2009 holding a fishing rod and wearing a forearm bandage from corrective surgery. Rednour, who was receiving total disability payments at the time while a prison administrator, was standing next to then U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, who held up a stringer of bass the two caught with a third man, the pond's owner. In June 2010, shortly before he became warden, Rednour received a $75,678 settlement for repetitive trauma that was paid for by taxpayers.
Ziegler, who was off work on total temporary disability, was photographed in a bass boat on Carlyle Lake in May, observing a high school bass fishing tournament. Ziegler received a $76,326 tax-free check in January for a repetitive trauma settlement. In 2009, he received a $42,043 settlement for a shoulder sprain.
In copies of the 2008 surveillance photos, obtained by the News-Democrat, Landis is seen climbing up and down a ladder. The original photos accompanied a report to the Internal Affairs unit of the Department of Corrections requesting an investigation of Landis. The report referred to a similar episode a week earlier, during which Landis was spotted power washing a pole barn behind his house, and to a day in May of that year when he was photographed using a weed-whacker and cutting grass on a riding lawn mower.
In one message dated Sept. 9, 2008, a corrections department administrator wrote about two employees, one of whom was Landis.
"They received a report of two employees who were out with service-connected disabilities," the administrator wrote. "The IA (internal affairs) officer went out and took pictures of these guys doing things that their doctors said they shouldn't do. Risk management was contacted but responded that they had no one to investigate."
Landis continued to receive his weekly disability check of about $790 for a few months in 2010. Those payments amounted to about $327,832 during almost eight years he was out on disability. When medical bills are added, the total bill to taxpayers was about $456,000, according to workers' compensation and comptroller's office records.
In 1999, he received a $53,000 tax-free workers' compensation settlement for injuries that, according to a settlement document, resulted in the permanent loss of 30 percent of the use of his right arm and a 25 percent loss of the use of his right leg. He also received $9,010 in temporary total disability pay.
Landis said that after the 2003 back injury, he was unable to return to his job as a shift supervisor, which is basically a desk job, although some manual labor occasionally is involved. He said he asked for another job.
"I tried to get them to give me gainful employment," he said, " but they wouldn't do it."