In all, 106 suspects were charged in a scheme that goes back to
the late 1980s, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus
Vance, whose office led the two-year probe.
"The total amount stolen from taxpayers could reach $400 million,"
Vance said. Disability payments, pension liabilities and salary
demands are among the financial pressures on municipalities that are
struggling to balance budgets while maintaining basic services.
Prosecutors released documents that included images of a number of
the purportedly disabled suspects engaged in activities such as
jet-skiing, martial arts instruction and piloting a helicopter.
The case is reminiscent of a $1 billion disability fraud involving
employees of the Long Island Rail Road who were accused of playing
golf, shoveling snow or riding bikes when they claimed they were
unable to work. After the scandal was first brought to light by a
2008 New York Times investigation, U.S. authorities charged 33
people, all of whom pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial.
In the more recent case, New York prosecutors said many of the
suspects claimed U.S. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
benefits of $30,000 to $50,000 a year for psychiatric ailments such
as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression that were
so incapacitating they were unable to work — or, in some cases, even
to leave their homes.
"The brazenness is shocking," Vance said at a Tuesday press
conference, referring to one suspect who officials said ran a
martial arts studio. "So if you're 'disabled' and running around
running a judo studio, that's brazen."
By early Tuesday afternoon, officials said, 84 of the 106 were in
custody, and most of the remaining 22 defendants were expected to
surrender or be arrested. Investigators said they were still
collecting evidence and more people could be charged.
said four men masterminded the wide-ranging scheme, directing
hundreds of applicants to the SSDI benefits program and teaching
them how to feign symptoms of mental and psychiatric damage in order
to obtain benefits to which they were not entitled.
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"Since at least 1988, these men are charged with coaching hundreds
of individuals on how to convince the Social Security Administration
that (they) are unable to work at any job because they suffer a
psychiatric condition and are, therefore, entitled to monthly
disability payments," Vance said.
The four men charged with organizing the scheme are a retired New
York police officer, a police detectives' union official, a pension
consultant and an attorney, officials said.
Newly appointed New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who stood
beside Vance at the news conference, said he could "only express
disgust" at the actions of the suspects. He was especially irked
that they invoked the suicide hijack attacks of September 11, 2001 — also known as 9/11 — when nearly 3,000 people were killed.
"The idea that many of them chose the events of 9/11 to claim as the
basis for their disability brings further dishonor to themselves,"
The 106 defendants are being charged with varying degrees of grand
larceny and attempted grand larceny and face a range of jail
sentences if convicted.
Defense attorneys for the suspects could not be identified on
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; editing by Chris Francescani,
Gunna Dickson and Eric Walsh)
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