A former Santa Clara County Sheriff’s lieutenant charged with feigning injuries to claim disability benefits, while actually doing bodybuilding training, has pleaded no contest to a felony but will not serve any jail time, under an agreement reached with prosecutors.
Mandy Henderson. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Mandy Henderson, 41, of Las Vegas, pleaded no contest July 22 to a single count of making a false or fraudulent claim or statement, a felony violation of the state insurance code. The District Attorney’s Office dropped a felony charge of failing to disclose information affecting her entitlement to insurance benefits she was seeking and receiving.
Henderson was sentenced to six months of house arrest with electronic monitoring, with limited exceptions for child care and grocery shopping, according to prosecutors and court records. She was ordered to pay restitution for any erroneous benefits she received before her Dec. 26 arrest, and was given three years of probation.
The felony conviction effectively ends Henderson’s police career, as she is now subject to a lifetime ban from possessing firearms or ammunition. Henderson resigned from the Sheriff’s Office after she was charged.
The attorney representing Henderson did not respond to a request for comment as of Friday afternoon.
Deputy District Attorney Vonda Tracey said the charges against Henderson were particularly troubling given her many years in law enforcement.
“As a peace officer, she’s responsible for the public trust. And as a lieutenant, she should be setting an example for other officers,” Tracey said.
The county estimated that had her request for an industrial disability retirement been approved, Henderson would have received about $3.3 million in disability retirement payments over a life expectancy of 82 years. The Sheriff’s Office said Henderson’s conduct sapped resources from her colleagues who were genuinely hurt in the line of duty.
“She took advantage of a system that is in place to help injured first responders. She should be ashamed for discrediting the sacrifice of law enforcement professionals everywhere,” the agency said in a statement. “The true victims in this case are the injured employees that are recovering and actually planning to return to work.”
In January 2018, the Sheriff’s Office and the county workers’ compensation division began formally investigating suspicions that Henderson might be lying about being physically unable to perform her job.
Her claim was backed by Palo Alto-based Dr. Steven Feinberg’s written evaluation stating that Henderson could no longer perform 20 of 31 “essential job functions,” physical tasks that included frequent walking, jogging a mile in 12 minutes, stair climbing, occasional bending, and driving a patrol car. Henderson already had an existing workers’ compensation claim stemming from an on-the-job injury Henderson reported in October 2015.
In February, Feinberg declined comment for this story through his office, citing medical privacy restrictions.
While the county ordered that Henderson be placed on modified duty to accommodate her latest purported injuries, it also hired Immendorf & Company Investigations to conduct surveillance on Henderson in Las Vegas, where she had recently moved, according to sources familiar with the case.
The unraveling of the Henderson’s ploy at times resembled a hidden-camera reality show. A Sheriff’s report on Henderson, which included detailed descriptions of that surveillance, showed Henderson drive a car by herself, carry her child, use a treadmill and stair-climber, lift weights and perform strenuous strength training, including shoulder presses, bench presses, push-ups, and leg lifts.
After unsuccessfully trying to compel Henderson to fly back to San Jose — she reportedly said she had “a lot of pain sitting down for long periods” — a sheriff’s captain and a county health injury prevention coordinator flew to Las Vegas in February 2018 to meet Henderson.
At the meeting at a Starbucks coffee shop, the report states, Henderson walked gingerly as she leaned on her husband Ken, a former Santa Clara police officer, and exhibited visible pain while moving. In previous status updates, she claimed she was “unable to raise her young child normally due to her physical limitations and that she lies down on the couch for the majority of most days,” according to the investigative report.
But before and after the Starbucks meeting, the surveillance showed her working out and walking with no apparent physical limitations. Investigators also reported obtaining records that showed between May 2017, when she first moved to Las Vegas, and February 2018, Henderson checked in at the gym 208 times.
The decision to investigate Henderson quietly remains a point of contention in the Sheriff’s Office that falls along political lines between supporters and critics of Sheriff Laurie Smith. Critics tell this news organization that Henderson’s bodybuilding activities were well known, and that she was not previously challenged by upper management in part because she was a political supporter of Smith. But the county’s suspicions, and subsequent investigation, they say, forced the agency’s hand.