More than 100 retired New York City cops, firefighters and correction officers were charged today with falsely claiming to be suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of the 9/11 terror attacks, New York prosecutors said today.
The alleged scam won awards up to $500,000 for the uniformed personnel and cost taxpayers millions of dollars, according to the indictment.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the suspects "cynically manufactured claims of mental illness as a result of Sept 11th... dishonoring the first responders."
Police Commissioner William Bratton said, "The retired members of the NYP indicted in this case have disgraced all first responders who perished during the search and rescue efforts on Sept. 11, 2001."
The prosecution backed up its case with recorded phone calls of the suspects being coached on how to behave in front of a medical board and photos of the suspects doing vigorous activity like jet skiing, doing mixed martial arts, and going on cruises after convincing doctors they were unable to leave their homes.
Today's arrests cap a two year investigation, aided by federal investigators, the city's Department of Investigation and the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau.
The alleged fraud cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in improper Social Security benefits.
The indictment charges four men with masterminding the alleged fraud, including attorney Raymond Lavellee, 81, Thomas Hale, 89, Joseph Esposito, 70, and John Minerva, 59.
Hale is president of a firm that determines eligibility for Social Security disability. Esposito is a former NYPD employee and Minerva is an ex-cop who is currently a disability consultant for the Detectives Endowment Association.
None of the accused actually suffered from debilitating stress, officials claim. Many were caught working after retirement, a violation of disability benefits.
And some of the retired officers retained their gun permits. Retired officers cannot possess guns if they are being treated for stress.
Court papers included what prosecutors said were recorded phone calls in which Esposito "coached" the officers how to dress and behave and now to muff questions to show that lacked concentration.
"They're liable to say... spell the word 'world,' so you go 'W-R-L-D.' Then they're gonnna say 'Spell it backwards.' You think about it, and you can't spell it backwards," Esposito was recorded saying.
He allegedly told officers claiming that their debilitating anxieties stemmed from the 9/11 attacks to tell examiners they were "afraid of planes and entering large buildings."
The 9/11 attacks took a heavy toll on the city's cops, called "New York's Finest," and firefighters, dubbed "New York's Bravest." The casualty count from the terror attacks included 23 police officers and 343 firefighters.
Most of the arrests in the fraud sweep took place in the city, with others being busted in Florida and elsewhere in New York State.
It was the second 9/11 scam to be revealed this week. On Monday, two New Jersey men pleaded guilty to raising and keeping $50,000 for a Sept. 11 charity that was supposed to help families who lost loved one in the catastrophe.
Thomas Scalgione and Mark Niemczyk never gave any of the more than $50,000 in proceeds to the victims' families or to charities as promised, they told the court.