(KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Doug Stanglin, and Laura Petrecca, USA TODAY
NEW YORK -- More than 100 people, including 80 former New York City police officers and firefight.
ers, were charged Tuesday in an alleged fake-disability scheme, in some cases based on 9/11 rescue work.
The defendants 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, according to information released Tuesday afternoon by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
Many allegedly said their disability stemmed from psychiatric conditions -- such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression -- that began with their response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Among those arrested early Tuesday were 72 retired police officers and eight firefighters.
"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," New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said in a written statement.
Many of those arrested were part of an "insidious scheme" to profit off "the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history," said James T. Hayes, special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York.
The money allotted to those who receive Social Security Disability Insurance varies, but the average annual payout per person is $30,000 to $50,000, according to a press release from Vance's office.
The average amount paid to date to the charged defendants was about $210,000.
The scheme allegedly involved coaching disability applicants on how to fake mental and other disabilities during an evaluation. Two of the four main defendants are accused of helping applicants to falsely describe symptoms of depression and anxiety to doctors. In addition, they allegedly instructed applicants on how to dress and act and gave them advice on how to fail memory tests plausibly.
From approximately January 1988 to December 2013, the four principal defendants allegedly worked together to help "many hundreds of applicants to falsely claim disabilities," said the press release from Vance's office.
Those defendants-- Raymond Lavallee, 83; Thomas Hale, 89; Joseph Esposito, 64; and John Minerva, 61 - allegedly were paid for their help.
"These one-time cash payments were based on the applicants' monthly awards, and ranged from approximately $20,000 to $50,000," according to Vance's press release,
In addition to a portion of the kickbacks, Lavallee - an attorney -- allegedly also received $6,000 directly from the government for attorney's fees for each applicant, said the press release.
While they were collecting benefits, many of the 106 defendants "lived lifestyles that starkly contradicted the representations made on their applications," according to the press release.
None had a history of a psychiatric condition that would qualify them for Social Security disability benefits before they filed for assistance, according to the charges.
Defendants often claimed they rarely left their homes and had limited social interactions. In reality, there were applicants who traveled by air, played recreational sports and held jobs, according to court documents.
One defendant piloted a helicopter, one worked at a cannoli stand at the San Gennaro Festival in Manhattan, one rode a jet ski and one taught mixed martial arts.
Most defendants claimed they could not use a computer, but many had Facebook pages, Twitter handles and YouTube channels.
The four principal defendants are charged with grand larceny in the first and second degree and attempted larceny in the second degree.
The remaining 102 defendants, who were all Social Security Disability Insurance recipients, were charged with grand larceny in the second degree and attempted grand larceny in the second degree. The investigation is still ongoing, Vance's office said.