CRIME PAYS

THE STATE AWARDS BENEFITS TO AN IMPRISONED RAPIST BECAUSE HE CAN'T WORK. IRONIC? IN THIS CASE, IT'S EVIL.

In his world, Eusebio Vielma is a rich man.
Arizona's State Compensation Fund cuts Vielma a check every month for $883.38. Of that amount, half automatically goes to pay child support for two of his youngest children. Another chunk--probably 10 percent--goes to his attorney.

The rest, about $350 a month as workers' compensation for a bad back, is Vielma's to spend almost as he pleases, within the confines of his home at the Arizona State Prison in Florence.

The fifty-year-old will be getting that workers' compensation check for as long as he's locked up. And, unless his court appeal is successful, that will be for the rest of his days.

But that's not even the real deal here. Vielma is in prison for raping his teenage daughter. The children he's "supporting" with his state check are hers--by him. And Vielma qualified for top workers' comp benefits only because of a prior conviction as a sex offender.

It's shocking enough that a man serving an 88-year prison term for repeatedly raping his daughter is raking in enough cash to make his life behind bars more tolerable. It's even more repulsive that he fathered his natural daughter's two children, now four and two. (Vielma has denied paternity, but DNA testing proved otherwise. The children are living with their mother and her sister in northern Arizona.)

The reason for Vielma's good fortune is as simple as it is appalling, according to Diane Lindstrom, assistant chief counsel for the State Compensation Fund, a quasi-state insurance agency:

"Mr. Vielma was awarded total disability benefits based only on the fact that he had a prior sex-offender conviction in the state of Texas. He claimed because of that, he could not find employment. In other words, Mr. Vielma received greater benefits than the average good citizen would have received, only because of his criminal record and background."

IF THE IDEA OF PAYING someone thousands of dollars a year because he is a pervert is too strange for you to fathom, you're not alone.

"What happened here," says Diane Lindstrom, "makes me as irate and as highly offended as I've ever been about a case. This is the darnedest case I've ever seen."

Vielma's novel legal pitch was the first of its kind in Arizona, and only the second in the nation, says his Phoenix attorney Stephen Weiss. A specialist in workers' comp cases, Weiss convinced the Arizona Court of Appeals last year that Vielma would be getting a raw deal if he wasn't awarded permanent and total benefits.

"I found a case that said you can't punish someone in terms of benefits because he has a past criminal record," says Weiss. "This had nothing, by the way, to do with what has landed him in prison."

In a sense, that's correct. Vielma wasn't in prison for raping his daughter when the appellate court issued its ruling in the workers' comp case. But the earlier Texas case that Weiss referred to in his winning argument was almost identical to the one involving his youngest daughter.

Court records indicate that a Texas jury convicted Vielma in 1975 of sexual indecency with a minor. That minor was his oldest daughter, then a teenager. (Vielma later claimed he had been convicted of indecent exposure, a less serious crime, but his rap sheet tells another story.) He had served about ten months on a two-year prison sentence, records show, when an appellate court granted his motion for a new trial. Prosecutors then dismissed the case.

Vielma moved to the Casa Grande area with his wife and six children-- three boys and three girls--

soon after his release from the Texas prison. A farm laborer with just three years of formal education, Vielma worked in the fields near the tiny community of Stanfield, a few miles outside Casa Grande. Then he injured his back in July 1981.

Years of hearings before the Industrial Commission of Arizona on the seemingly minor case ensued, as Vielma argued for more and more benefits. In late 1986, the commission determined that Vielma had sustained a 78 percent loss of his earning power, which had been about $1,300 a month as a laborer.

Vielma protested the commission's award. Before an administrative law judge heard the appeal, lawyers for the State Compensation Fund scratched around to try to find a job for which Vielma was suited. They wound up submitting medical evidence that Vielma was physically capable of working part-time as a school bus driver.

In fact, that was the only possible job in the Stanfield area that the Fund's labor-market experts could identify for the Mexican-born immigrant. If he had lived in an urban area, Vielma's case likely would have had a different outcome. But he was apparently not eligible for other jobs in rural central Arizona because of his injury, lack of education and troubles with the English language.

At the hearing that followed, a seemingly minor question opened the door for Vielma. The Fund's Diane Lindstrom routinely asked him if he had a criminal record. That was when Vielma hurled his curve ball, offering that he was a convicted felon in Texas. Lindstrom argued in vain that the subsequent dismissal of the 1975 case meant that Vielma technically didn't have a criminal record.

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