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Doctors say exams find no evidence ex-Boston firefighter Arroyo had back problems

Two doctors who specialize in spine issues told a federal jury today that their separate physical examinations of Boston firefighter Albert Arroyo found no evidence to support the claims of back problems he made in filing for disability.

“There were symptoms out of proportion with what the clinical exam showed and the imaging from the MRI showed,’’ said Dr. Gaurav Kapur, an orthopedist who examined Arroyo when he worked at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston in August 2008, three months after the former firefighter sought compensation for injuries he claimed to have suffered while at a fire station in Jamaica Plain.

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Arroyo, who competed at bodybuilding competitions while he was out on disability leave, is on trial in US District Court in Boston facing charges of two counts of mail fraud for applying for a taxpayer-funded pension while he was healthy enough to work.

The 49-year-old sought to collect a $65,000 tax-free pension under his disability application, until a report in the Globe exposed the alleged scam. Prosecutors have said he was healthy enough to work, noting he lifted weights, played baseball, and performed rigorous poses at bodybuilding competitions.

Arroyo was fired after refusing to return to work once his superiors learned of the bodybuilding competitions.

At the trial, Kapur told prosecutors he had no idea Arroyo participated in bodybuilding competitions and said his patient told him his pain derived from an injury he sustained on the job in 2000.

Arroyo had been a firefighter for two decades when he applied for accidental disability retirement in 2008, saying he fell from stairs at a vacant firehouse in Jamaica Plain in March. He had previously reported back problems from an on-the-job injury in 2000, but the buff firefighter was able to complete a demanding training regimen and compete regularly in bodybuilding competitions between 2003 and 2008.

Kapur as well as Dr. Aaron Levine, another spine specialist from Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston, said there appeared to be inconsistencies in what Arroyo claimed to cause pain and what should have or have not caused pain during their exams.

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Levine said Arroyo told him his pain rated an eight on a scale of 10, but he noted the former firefighter was able to walk around his office seemingly free of pain. He said Arroyo complained of pain in his lower back when Levine pressed on his shoulders, but the doctor said that test shouldn’t elicit pain in the lower back.

“I would expect him to have been inactive due to his pain,’’ Levine said.

Arroyo’s lawyer, Timothy Watkins, has argued Arroyo always suffered pain but worked through it. He also said his client never meant to mislead anyone in his pension and retirement applications, saying Arroyo had actually been told to retire based on his past injuries.

In questioning the doctors, Watkins noted that their interpretations of the exams are subjective and that the pain that Arroyo reported could have been the result of stress as well.

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