Scores charged over disability scam
Published 08/01/2014 | 06:17
Scores of retired New York City police officers, firefighters and prison guards have been charged with faking psychiatric problems to get disability benefits.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance says four ringleaders coached the officers on how falsely to describe symptoms of depression and other mental health problems.
The officers received payouts as high as 500,000 dollars (£305,000) from claims they made. Mr Vance says the ringleaders made tens of thousands of dollars in secret kickbacks.
Prosecutors say the scheme went back to 1988 and included some who said they suffered ailments after the September 11 attacks.
One of the defendants who said he could not work taught martial arts. Another former police officer who claimed he could not leave the house worked at a pastry stand at a street festival.
More than 100 city ex-workers were being charged with faking psychiatric problems, law enforcement officials said yesterday.
Investigators said the scam stretched back more than two decades, with the ex-officers and other workers claiming mental health problems so severe that they could not work at all.
Workers collected years' worth of benefits after being coached on how to portray their problems, reporting that they were so psychologically damaged they could not take care of themselves, an officials said.
But "people who said they could barely leave their homes had robust lives out of their homes," the official said.
The case was put together by the district attorney's office, police, and city and federal authorities.
Among those arrested was a retired police officer who has since worked helping members of the detectives' union, the Detectives' Endowment Association, with disability claims at an office in Queens.
He has been suspended without pay, union president Michael Palladino said.
Claims of government workers feigning injury to get disability benefits have been the focus of sprawling criminal cases before.
Over the last two years, 32 people were arrested in a probe into Long Island Rail Road employees who collected disability benefits, and at least two dozen have pleaded guilty.
The workers allegedly claimed on-the-job injuries, only to be spotted later playing golf and tennis, working out, and even riding in a 400-mile bicycle race.
Joseph Gentile, a lawyer who represents a former police officer, declined to discuss his case specifically.
But he also represented one of the people charged in the railway case, and suggested such charges reflect a troubled system for reviewing and approving disability claims.
"A lot of the problems that occur here are because of systematic problems, not because of someone's criminality," he said.
While some people may indeed exploit benefits, "by and large, people have a bona fide, legitimate medical injury. The question becomes - is the medical problem or injury sufficient to sustain the claim for the benefits?"