The Dumbest Insurance Fraud Attempts Ever: #3

U.S. Judge Obtains a Pilot’s License While Fraudulently Claiming Brain Injury

Improving your financial situation with fraudulent insurance money can be tempting even to a very respectful and ethical person. This was the case of Michael Joyce, a former Pennsylvania state Superior Court judge who decided to break the law and cheat two insurance companies after a minor car accident. He probably expected that no one would be suspicious — but buying a plane, paying for plastic surgery for a new girlfriend, and going scuba diving are just a bit over the line for a more-than-50-year-old person who claims that his neck pain prevents him from pursuing higher judicial office.

An Afghan Air Force airman a student attending pilot training operates an Mi 17 helicopter simulator Oct  26 2013 at Shindand Air Base Afghanistan 131026 F IG195 470

Before the accident, Judge Joyce lived an exemplary life. He returned from Vietnam as a Bronze Star veteran, got a law degree, and served as a White House clerk during the Ford Administration. Afterwards, he ran his own practice and later was elected judge for the Erie County court. His career was progressing promisingly and he was elected judge for the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

However, not everything was as it seemed. Apparently Joyce had some financial difficulties and was defaulting with his rent after a breakup with his girlfriend. In addition to his personal problems, an SUV bumped into his state-leased Mercedes Benz at a traffic light. Even though neither medical nor law enforcement personnel were called to the accident scene, Joyce later claimed that this low-speed collision affected his professional and personal life in a very significant way.


Judge Joyce went to see a doctor complaining of persistent neck and back pain, headaches, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and short-term memory loss. He told his neurologist that his fingers were numb and he could barely hold a cup of coffee. Apparently, his injuries did not only prevent him from playing golf, scuba diving or exercising, but more importantly, he also had to work 12 hours a day and weekends to do the same amount of work he was able to do when working fewer hours a day before the injury. This made it impossible for him to pursue higher judicial office. He also falsely asserted that he had received the Republican endorsement and nomination in an election for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The insurance companies settled his claim within three months without demanding an independent medical examination. Joyce received $440,000 from two insurance companies, $50,000 from the SUV driver’s insurance company in settlement of his bodily injury insurance claim, and $390,000 in settlement from his own insurer under the under-insured motorist provision of his automobile coverage relative to the accident.

However, it was Joyce himself who very recklessly undermined his claims on several occasions. After complaining to one doctor that he suffered brain injuries preventing him from doing his job, he went to see another doctor to clear him for a pilot’s license. There, he mentioned that he did not suffer from any neurological problems and later successfully passed the Federal Aviation Administration’s physical exam for a private pilot’s license.

Apparently, Joyce continued to play golf, scuba dive, exercise, ride motorcycles, rollerblade, and fly airplanes during the same period that he made his insurance claims. Moreover, after receiving the fraudulent money, Joyce went on a spending spree of colossal proportions. He purchased a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, plastic surgery for his new girlfriend, and a hot tub and he paid down payments on a new home and an airplane.


The judge’s appalling conduct did not go unrecognized, and after a trial and an unsuccessful appeal, Joyce was convicted in November 2008 on two counts of mail fraud and six counts of money laundering. He has been sentenced to 46 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to make $440,000 in restitution. His law license has been suspended, he faces disbarment, and he has also been deprived of his $81,803 annual pension.

The LSM’s Take:

It seems very surprising that the insurance company would settle Joyce’s claim without an independent examination. Sometimes insurers are more relaxed on the claim requirements for smaller policies, but on a claim of this size, it seems strange they would not want to do their own analysis.

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  • Bryon
    June 19, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Wow! Would he have gotten away with it if he had not went for the pilot license? I don’t think frauds will ever go unnoticed, many of these fraudsters always end up making a small mistake that will cause them jail time–as they should!

    • LSM Insurance
      June 19, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      Good point Byron.

  • JohnnyL
    June 19, 2014 at 8:05 am

    I would think that a person so high on the judicial ladder should be intelligent enough to at least try to cover his tracks somehow. This one obviously wasn’t.

    • LSM Insurance
      June 19, 2014 at 8:11 am

      Thanks, for the comment Johnny. Well, you’re right, he obviously didn’t give his plan much thought when he applied for the pilot’s license in the same time as he was pretending the brain injury.

  • Ami Maishlish
    June 13, 2014 at 11:21 am

    It would be interesting if there were stats on the frequency of white collar crime among those who enact laws (politicians) and are in the business of law adjudication (lawyers and elected judges) versus the general population. Just heard on the news that an Ontario mayor (not Toronto) was charged with fraud that allegedly occurred during his term as a lawmaker in 2005.

    • LSM Insurance
      June 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      That would be interesting stat. Having said that likely pretty hard to find.