Firefighters make their way through the rubble at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Prosecutors have charged that some former police and firefighters who allegedly made fraudulent disability claims said their psychiatric disorders stemmed from their response to the 9/11 attacks.
(Photo: Shawn Baldwin, AP)
NEW YORK (USA TODAY) -- More than 100 people, including 80 former New York City police officers and firefighters, were charged Tuesday in an alleged multimillion-dollar scheme involving fraudulent Society Security disability claims.
The defendants collected tens of thousands of dollars a year by claiming they were completely incapacitated by serious psychiatric disorders and other ailments, according to information released Tuesday afternoon by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
Many allegedly said their disability stemmed from psychiatric conditions -- such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression -- that began with their response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Among those arrested early Tuesday were 72 retired police officers and eight firefighters.
"The retired members of the NYPD indicted in this case have disgraced all first responders who perished during the search-and-rescue efforts on September 11, 2001, and those who subsequently died from 9/11-related illness, by exploiting their involvements that tragic day for personal gain," New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said in a written statement.
Many of those arrested were part of an "insidious scheme" to profit off "the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history," said James T. Hayes, special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York.
Click-> Copy of letter to Justice in regards to bail determinations for those arrested
The money allotted to those who receive Social Security Disability Insurance varies, but the average annual payout per person is $30,000 to $50,000, according to a press release from Vance's office.
The scheme allegedly involved coaching disability applicants how to fake mental and other disabilities during an evaluation.
Cccording to one law enforcement official, quoted in The New York Times, "people who said they could barely leave their homes had robust lives out of their homes."
The Times said investigators assembled photos from social media, like Facebook, showing some disability claimants riding a jet ski or motorcycle.
Officials said one police officer who claimed he was mentally disabled was allegedly working as a martial arts instructor, NBC4 New York reported.
Another, who received benefits because of a fear of crowds, was discovered selling cannolis in Little Italy during the Feast of San Gennaro festival that brings more than a million people to the neighborhood, NBC New York reported.
A 201-count indictment charged 106 people, including four who were accused of running the scheme.
The four principal defendants are Raymond Lavallee, 83; Thomas Hale, 89; Joseph Esposito, 64; and John Minerva, 61. They are charged with grand larceny in the first and second degree and attempted larceny in the second degree.
The remaining 102 defendants, who were all Social Security Disability Insurance recipients, were charged with grand larceny in the second degree and attempted grand larceny in the second degree. The investigation is continuing, Vance's office said.
Contributing: Associated Press
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