Tuesday, January 7, 2014

 

Ex-NYPD Cops, Firefighters Charged With Disability Fraud

More than 100 busted in one of the largest Social Security disability-fraud cases in U.S. history.

 

 



More than 100 people, including 72 former New York City police officers and eight former firefighters, were charged Tuesday in one of the largest Social Security disability-fraud cases in U.S. history, which authorities said cost taxpayers as much as $400 million over two decades.

The plot, allegedly under way since at least 1988, involved four facilitators who helped coach hundreds of applicants on how to convince the Social Security Administration that they were entitled to monthly disability payments because they were unable to work at any job due to psychiatric conditions, said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. 

About half of the defendants "falsely claimed" that their psychiatric injuries were caused as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mr. Vance said at a news conference.
The arrests are the latest in a wave of crackdowns as investigators seek to tackle fraud in the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which has grown rapidly in recent years. In August, federal and local authorities arrested more than 70 people in Puerto Rico on charges related to disability fraud. A separate criminal investigation is under way into the possible relationship between a West Virginia Social Security judge and a disability lawyer in Kentucky.


Investigators have been targeting people who they allege should not have qualified for benefits, as well as some lawyers, doctors and others who profited from the arrangements. The scope of the alleged scheme wasn't clear, though authorities warned it eventually could include hundreds more.
Mr. Vance said the four people who oversaw the scheme included attorney Raymond Lavallee, 83 years old, and Thomas Hale, 89, who worked as a manager under him. The others— Joseph Esposito, 64, and John Minerva, 61—are former NYPD officers who helped to recruit the other 102 defendants. All four pleaded not guilty at their arraignment

Glenn Lieberman
Mr. Lavallee and the three others "coached the applicants on how to describe the symptoms of depression and anxiety during the application process," Mr. Vance said. "Specifically they instructed them on how to intentionally fail memory tests, how to dress when they presented themselves and how to present their demeanor."
Authorities said they began catching on to the scam around 2008, when investigators began noticing that nearly all of applications had the same handwriting and contained boilerplate descriptions of their ailments.

When applications were granted, the four managers received cash kickbacks ranging between $20,000 and $50,000 in return for their help in submitting the paperwork in each case, Mr. Vance said.
The men are charged with filing fraudulent applications. The group includes 72 retired NYPD officers, eight retired FDNY firefighters, five former corrections officers and a former police officer from Nassau County.

Mr. Minerva currently is employed by the Detectives' Endowment Association, the NYPD detectives union, as a disability consultant. Mr. Lavallee once served as the chief of the rackets bureau at the Nassau County District Attorney's office.
According to prosecutors, authorities used wiretaps and monitored Internet activity as part of the investigation, finding that those who claimed severe disabilities were leading active lives despite assertions that they were "unable to perform basic life skills like cooking for themselves, grooming themselves, paying bills and socializing."
"Many said they could no longer drive or be out of the house for more than a short walk around the block," Mr. Vance said. "The investigation revealed lifestyles that were very different."
Screenshots of websites included in the indictment show defendants riding motorcycles and Jet Skis, and one who was running a martial-arts school, going as far as setting his movements to music and uploading them on YouTube.

Prosecutors showed another in which defendant Richard Cosentino, 49, a former NYPD sergeant who allegedly claimed ailments, including an inability to socialize or leave the house, was seen on a boat holding a large marlin he reeled in during a fishing trip.
Most defendants were arraigned Tuesday before Justice Daniel Fitzgerald in Manhattan Criminal Court. All pleaded not guilty and were released on their own recognizance.

 

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