Josh and Susan Powell moved from their home state of Washington to Utah at the beginning of 2004. Neither had a job lined up, nor did they have a place to live planned.
Prior to the move, the Powells had worked as live-in managers at a pair of senior living communities. They’d run afoul of management at the first, Orchard Park in Yakima, Wash., due in part to excessive absenteeism related to medical treatment.
That treatment, comprising several months of chiropractic and massage therapy care, had followed a minor car crash on May 12, 2003 in the community of Union Gap, Wash.
Records now recovered exclusively by Cold raise questions about the necessity of the treatment and suggest fraudulent behavior on the part of Josh Powell.
The Union Gap crash occurred as Josh and Susan were driving northbound on an I-82 frontage road called Rudkin Road.
Another motorist who was behind the Powells had glanced away from the road for a brief moment. Bob Powers told Cold he recalled looking back to see the minivan stopped in front of him, for no apparent reason.
“There’s clear roadway ahead, no stop lights, no stop signs, no right or left turn opportunities,” Powers said. “There was no reason for him to be stopped dead center in the middle of the road.”
Powers’ Lexus ES240 sedan collided with the Powell’s minivan at a low speed. The crash caused minor damage to a headlight on the car.
Repair records from Greenway Auto Body in Yakima showed the crash also left a small dent in the rear bumper of the minivan. The shop billed $1275 to Powers’ insurance to repair the damage.
Photos taken by appraiser Kelly Lawson and included with the body shop paperwork showed the damage was mostly cosmetic.
A Union Gap police officer responded to Powers’ phone call reporting the crash. A report authored by the officer described Josh as having claimed he had slowed to make a left-hand turn. The officer’s report also noted that “no injuries were reported.”
Following the crash, Josh had Susan drive him to Memorial Hospital in Yakima. Josh sought an evaluation in the emergency department for symptoms of whiplash.
Records retained by Josh and recovered from his digital archive by Cold, with the assistance of digital forensic experts at the firm Eide Bailly, showed he received a prescription for Vicodin. Josh was also advised to avoid strenuous activity at work “for 3-4 days.”
Susan did not complain of any pain the evening of the crash. She did not request an evaluation at the hospital. However, the morning after the crash, she went to a clinic with general body aches. Susan received a prescription for Celebrex, which she did not end up taking, and similar advice regarding light duty.
On the second day after the crash, Josh convinced Susan they both needed to see a chiropractor. Josh had found one he liked in the Yellow Pages. Josh and Susan spent the next two months seeing the chiropractor two or three times per week. They also made multiple visits to a massage therapist.
All of those visits were billed to auto insurance.
Evidence Against Injury
In mid-July, 2003, Josh decided that his recovery had plateaued. On July 16, 2003, he transferred his and Susan’s care to a different chiropractor.
However, only three days earlier, Josh and Susan had visited a trucking business in Kent, Wash. Josh at the time was considering obtaining a commercial driver license. In video recorded that day by Josh’s father, Steve Powell, Josh can be seen using his arms and upper body to steer a tractor-trailer.
By coincidence, that day was also when Steve confessed his infatuation with Susan to her in a conversation he accidentally captured on tape.
Josh’s personal notes indicate the second chiropractor advised the Powells they should hire a personal injury attorney in an attempt to extract a settlement from Bob Powers’ insurance company. Josh resisted this idea, opting to instead negotiate with the insurance company directly.
“I actually had no idea that this guy had made any claim whatsoever with my insurance company until you guys had come up with that information.”Bob Powers
By August, both insurance companies involved in the claim had become suspicious about the necessity of the ongoing chircopractic and massage therapy treatments. Josh’s insurance provider, Pemco, ordered the Powells to undergo independent medical evaluations.
Records show both Josh and Susan took part in those evaluations on Aug. 19, 2003.
The evaluator noted that Josh complained of “aching, stabbing, or burning pain” in his neck, as well as headaches. Josh also described having hit his head at the time of the crash and blacking out “for about two seconds following the accident.”
On an intake form, Josh checked boxes indicating he was experiencing severe or frequent headaches, shaking or twitching in limbs, loss of motion in joints, spine abnormality and excessive worry or anxiety.
Susan did not check any boxes indicating current symptoms.
The IME paperwork also revealed both Josh and Susan had each missed eight days of work following the crash.
Josh also told the evaluator that he had no “previous problems involving his neck or mid back prior to the motor vehicle accident of May 12, 2003.” In fact, Josh had received similar treatment for neck and back pain following a similar car crash in June of 2000.
In the end, Pemco agreed to cover the lion’s share of the medical costs. It refused to pay for specific treatments provided by the second chiropractor, finding them to be “not reasonable.” Pemco, in turn, received reimbursement from Bob Powers’ insurance provider, State Farm.
Josh’s own negotiations with the other insurance provider proved lucrative. He ended up receiving a check for more than $6,000, above and beyond the covered medical expenses.
A dispute over Josh and Susan’s missed work time as a result of the May 2003 car crash contributed to a worsening of their standing with their employer, Holiday Retirement. In a probationary move, they transferred to a different senior living center in Olympia, Wash. toward the end of 2003.
However, that move brought Josh and Susan physically closer to Steve Powell, who Susan had gone to great lengths to avoid in the months following her rejection of his love confession. So, in the waning months of the year, Josh and Susan decided to move to Utah.
The couple spent the first few months of 2004 living with Josh’s older sister, Jennifer Graves, and her family in West Jordan, Utah.
They obtained jobs with Fidelity through a temp agency. Josh lost his within a matter of days. By February, he was receiving unemployment insurance benefits from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
On Feb. 8, 2004, Josh filled out paperwork applying for private health insurance coverage from IHC Health Plans. On the form, he listed his occupation as “manager.” He did not disclose that he was unemployed.
Elsewhere on the form, Josh wrote that he and Susan were both in “great health.” On a section of the form dealing with past prescription medications, he omitted the pain medications both he and Susan had received after the May 12, 2003 car crash in Yakima.
Insurance application processing notes later recovered by West Valley City police through an investigative subpoena showed IHC Health Plans quoted Josh a 15% rate increase due to his and Susan’s recent neck and back pain.
Those processing notes included a history of contacts between the insurance agent, sales representative and underwriter. In one exchange, the agent described Josh as “quite difficult to work with” over a request for records related to the chiropractic treatment.
In the final exchange captured in the processing notes, the sales representative asked the agent what it was that Josh managed. The agent replied that she had learned Josh was actually “between jobs.”