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Phony tax forms led to big settlement for knee injury

A one-time Botetourt County restaurant owner used phony income documents to help score a $450,000 settlement for his alleged swimming pool knee injury, according to authorities. Now, the man may have to pay the money back.

Eric Wooten pleaded guilty yesterday to federal charges of fraud and lying to get a bank loan. It was the fraud charge that involved his liability claim against a Roanoke hotel.

Wooten claimed his knee was injured in April 2008 by a defective pool ladder at the Roanoke Courtyard Marriott hotel, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. He complained the knee injury cost him thousands in lost income.

To bolster that claim, Wooten mailed to the hotel’s insurer two federal income tax forms showing annual income of $81,000 and $93,000. In fact, Wooten filed no tax returns at all for the years in question.

The hotel’s insurer, Wausau Insurance Company, accepted the false tax documents and paid Wooten $450,000 to settle the claim, the U.S. Attorney’s office reported.

Wooten had some legal help with his claim, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Mott. A lawyer in Florida apparently helped Wooten in negotiations with the insurance company, and received $100,000 from the settlement for his effort.

No word on who that Florida attorney is or whether he has to cough up his share of the settlement.

Wooten, who also admitted using phony financial documents to get car loans, faces up to 50 years behind bars when he is sentenced July 16. He can expect an order to pay restitution to Wausau, Mott said.

By Peter Vieth

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