Crime - Sacto 911

Ex-CHP officer gets probation for workers’ comp fraud

One surveillance video showed former California Highway Patrol officer Tony Yao driving a stake into the ground to hold up a banner for a San Francisco 49ers playoff game in January 2012.

Others played in Sacramento Superior Court in Yao’s workers’ compensation fraud trial last month showed him carrying shopping bags, helping walk a bike and apparently disassembling a baby carriage.

These images contrasted with others in the same time frame of Yao the days he showed up at the doctor’s office to get treatment for the back he said he injured in May 2011 while on the job for the CHP, pulling a chain to move a target. They showed Yao hobbling along with a cane, hunched over in what appeared to be serious pain.

Sacramento prosecutors charged the injury display was all an act, and last month a jury agreed when it convicted him on three felony counts related to the fraud.

On Wednesday, Judge Russell L. Hom sentenced Yao to five years formal probation and a stayed term of 240 days in county jail, pending the defendant’s application for admission into the sheriff’s work release program.

Hom also ordered Yao, who is now 41, to pay $80,555.15 restitution.

Deputy District Attorney Jeanne McCullough asked the judge to sentence Yao to a jail term that would have put him behind bars for anywhere from nine months to a year.

“It is very sad he is in the predicament he is in,” McCullough said in court. “But the fact is, he’s in a predicament.”

Mainly, Yao was found guilty of lying, the prosecutor said. She said he also violated his position of trust within the CHP, where he worked in the coveted commissioner’s detail until he was fired for his fraud.

Defense attorney George Picha III wrote in his sentencing memorandum that Yao “was living in a cloud of of narcotics and pain which caused him to behave in a manner that was not consistent with the strong morals and integrity that he has.”

More than 40 friends and relatives wrote letters in support of Yao. One of them came from his wife, Virginia, who told the judge in her letter, “The man that the district attorney portrayed him to be is not the man Tony Yao is. It is unfortunate that my husband and family has been a victim to a grave injustice.”

The judge told Yao that it appeared “you’ve led a rather exemplary life,” but that the case against him “essentially comes down to a violation of trust” that he broke with both the state and his family.

“You ended what could have been a great career in law enforcement,” Hom told Yao. The judge commended the former officer for gaining the support of his family, “but I cannot overlook the fact you were sworn to uphold the laws of this state but you perpetrated a fraud on the state.”

If Yao is accepted into the sheriff’s work release program, he could serve out his sentence on either ankle monitoring or house arrest. If he is not accepted into the program, he will go to jail.

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.