USA: Former Police and Firemen Arrested For Disability Fraud

More than 100 ex-police and firemen have been arrested in the United States for fraud after allegedly filing false mental illness claims in order to receive federal benefits. The fraud is believed to have cost the Social Security system hundreds of millions of dollars, reports the BBC.

According to the New York Times, many of the accused said they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders because of the September 11th attacks. The workers allegedly collected annual payments of between US $30,000 and US $50,000 each.

Four of the 106 charged in the indictment are accused of running the scheme. According to the NewYork Times, court papers say that Raymond Lavalle, 83, a lawyer who started his career at the FBI, headed the group.  He is accused of conspiring with Thomas Hale, 89, a pension consultant, and  Joseph Minerva, 61, a former police officer employed at the Detectives’ Endowment Association, to falsely claim Social Security disability benefits.

New York Police Department vehicle

Lawyers for the four men deny the accusations, reports the New York Times.Prosecutors say the men who ran the scheme received more than $28,000 in cash kickbacks from each applicant they coached. The funds came from the first check the claimants received from the Social Security Administration.

Investigators discovered incriminating evidence suggesting that emergency service officials fabricated their disabilities after looking into the social networking sites of the accused.

According to the BBC, one of the accused retired officers posted pictures of himself riding a jet ski, despite reporting panic attacks that left him unable to leave his home. Others who reported the same inability to leave their homes posted pictures of themselves riding motorcycles, flying helicopters, and playing basketball.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance condemned the actions of the indicted workers, reports the BBC.

"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 own health and safety," he said.

"The brazenness is shocking," said Vance.

According to the New York Times, the bail letter says that a total of US $21.4 million in disability benefits was paid to those indicted.  Investigators say the Social Security scheme apparently originated as far back as 1988 and that as many as 1,000 people may have bilked the government of as much as US $400 million.