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NYPD officers, firefighters charged with disability fraud

Dozens of New York police officers and firefighters have been charged with falsely claiming disabilities to receive benefits. Some of the accused claimed to have PTSD from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Manhattan district attorney on Tuesday charged 106 people, including 80 former police and firefighters, with fraudulently claiming disabilities to receive Social Security benefits from the US federal government.

The accused drew $30,000 to $50,000 per year in federal benefits to which they were not entitled, according to a statement by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance. Some of the retired police and firefighters claimed that they had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"Many participants cynically manufactured claims of mental illness as a result of September 11, dishonoring the first responders who did serve their city at the expense of their health and safety," Vance wrote in the statement.

"This alleged scam further depleted the already limited resources available for battling the real and complex conditions of PTSD and depression," Vance said.

'Far-reaching criminal enterprise'

The fraud ring was allegedly run by Raymond Lavallee, 83, Thomas Hale, 89, Joseph Esposito, 64, and John Minerva, 61. As early as 1988, the four men conspired to help applicants fake disability claims to collect benefits in addition to their public pensions, according to court documents.

"The crimes alleged in this indictment outline a highly organized, far-reaching criminal enterprise that targeted the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program," said Edward Ryan, a special agent at the US Social Security Administration.

"These individuals allegedly relied on lies, deceit, and under-the-table payments while they bilked the Social Security Trust Funds of tens of millions of dollars and, in many instances, exploited the tragic events of September 11, 2001 for their own gain," Ryan said.

slk/jr (AFP, dpa)