Dancing Hamster Misrepresented Employment Status to Collect Benefits
Remember those Kia Soul commercials from a couple years back with the dancing hamsters? One of them was arrested on insurance fraud charges alleging that that he illegally collected state disability insurance benefits.
Leroy Barnes, 27, of Los Angeles, is suspected of deceiving his doctors about his employment status while he received disability benefits.
State disability insurance (SDI) provides short-term, financial benefits to eligible employees who can’t work due to a non-work-related illness or injury or when medically disabled due to pregnancy or childbirth. The benefits partially replace employees’ lost wages.
In June 2010, while employed as a dancer, Barnes was injured during a sound check when a piece of ceiling fell on him. Barnes received state disability insurance benefits totaling more than $51,000 from September 2010 to September 2011.
Barnes stated that he was not employed during the year he received state disability insurance. Detectives discovered evidence that Barnes was actually working while collecting disability benefits:
- He starred in a Kia car commercial playing the role of a dancing hamster;
- He also performed in a rap group called The Rej3ctz, under the alias MoWii;
- He assisted in recording the song Cat Daddy; and
- Worked as a backup dancer for Madonna, Kelly Rowland and Chris Brown under the name Hypnosis.
To be eligible for SDI benefits, a person must meet several requirements, including the inability to perform his/her regular or customary work.
“Fraudulently collecting disability benefits is not only illegal, it disrespects legitimately injured Californians who are unable to work,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.
If convicted, Barnes faces five years in state prison and restitution of more than $50,000.