More than 100 suspects – many of them retired city cops and firefighters falsely claiming they were traumatized on 9/11 – were busted Tuesday in a huge mental disability pension fraud scam that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, authorities said.
The fraudsters were recruited by four ringleaders who helped them fake various mental disabilities so they could cash in on fat Social Security disability pensions totaling tens of thousands of dollars a year, authorities said.
But the investigation showed that many of the supposed burnouts were living it up stress-free – with one riding a jet ski, another teaching martial arts and a third piloting a helicopter, sources said.
The 106 suspects netted so far cheated taxpayers out of $21.4 million, according to court documents.
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From the New York Times – N.Y. Police and Fire Forces Are Charged in Social Security Fraud
The indictment, brought by the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., charges a total of 106 people, four of whom are accused of running the scheme. That group includes an 83-year-old lawyer who has worked as an F.B.I. agent and a prosecutor, an 89-year-old pension consultant and a 61-year-old official of the union that represents New York City police detectives, according to the bail letter.
Scores of those charged, including a number of the 72 retired officers and eight firefighters, were arrested early Tuesday morning and were scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan before Acting Justice Daniel Fitzgerald.
“It’s a particularly cynical part of the charged scheme that approximately half the defendants falsely claimed that their psychiatric disabilities were caused by the 9/11 attacks,” Mr. Vance said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “This fraud not only forced taxpayers to finance the lifestyles of New York scammers but it also takes away from the already limited resources we have for people who actually suffer from psychiatric disabilities, and that includes of course the brave first responders who ran toward the fires on Sept. 11.”
Mr. Vance said one of the defendants, Louis Hurtado, had retired from the Police Department with a disability pension after suffering a neck injury, and then opened a martial arts studio. Yet he still applied for disability from the Social Security Administration, saying he suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome.
Another former officer, Glenn Lieberman, told government doctors he had panic attacks because of his experiences immediately following the terrorist attacks, and could not go outside. Nonetheless, his Facebook page revealed a picture of himself online cavorting on a jet ski.
“The brazenness was amazing,” Mr. Vance said.
The indictment accuses the four men it identifies as the scheme’s organizers of directing hundreds of applicants to the Social Security Disability Insurance program to lie about their psychiatric conditions and feign certain symptoms in order to obtain benefits to which they were not entitled. Those men — the lawyer, Raymond Lavallee; the pension consultant, Thomas Hale; the detectives’ union official, John Minerva; and Joseph Esposito, 64, a retired New York police officer who recruited many of the other defendants — were charged with first- and second-degree grand larceny and attempted second-degree grand larceny.