UK & World News
Former New York City Cops Held Over 9/11 Fraud
Former New York police officers and firefighters, who falsely claimed they were disabled as a result of the September 11 attacks, have been arrested in a sweeping fraud investigation.
They are among more than 100 people charged over the "massive" social security fraud worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The accused allegedly collected tens of thousands of dollars a year in social security disability benefits by claiming they were completely incapacitated by serious psychiatric disorders and other ailments.
But, according to court documents, they were in fact living normal lives; one of the accused flew a helicopter while another played blackjack in Las Vegas.
One of the accused taught and performed mixed martial arts but was still claiming benefits of typically between $30,000 (£18,000) and $50,000 (£30,400) a year. In some instances, the total amount fraudulently obtained was nearly $500,000 (£305,000) per applicant.
Of the 106 charged in the decades-long scam, 80 were retired New York police officers or firefighters.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said: "Many participants cynically manufactured claims of mental illness as a result of September 11, dishonouring the first responders who did serve their city at the expense of their own health and safety."
As far back as 1988, the four main defendants - Raymond Lavallee, 83, Thomas Hale, 89, Joseph Esposito, 64, and John Minerva, 61 - conspired to help or make hundreds of applicants falsely claim disabilities in order to collect benefit payments in addition to their public pensions, court documents say.
Prosecutors said the applicants claimed they suffered from a psychiatric condition that prevented them from working, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression.
Mr Vance said: "This alleged scam further depleted the already limited resources available for battling the real and complex conditions of PTSD and depression."
New York City Police Department commissioner William Bratton said: "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."
Hale and Esposito, the latter a retired member of the NYPD, allegedly coached benefit applicants to falsely describe symptoms of depression and anxiety to doctors they had recruited.
They instructed applicants on how to fail memory tests with plausibility, how to dress, and on their demeanour.
For example, almost every claim included phrases such as "I nap on and off during the day" and "I have the TV on to keep me company".
More than 2,700 people were killed in New York on September 11, 2001, when two passenger planes, hijacked by Islamist militants, slammed into the World Trade Center.
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