More than 100 people, including 72 former NYC police officers and 8 former firefighters, were charged earlier this month with Social Security disability fraud. A total of $21.4 million in benefits was paid to people listed in the indictment.
About half of the defendants falsely claimed psychiatric illness as a result of the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks. The four people who ran this scheme were attorneys Raymond Lavallee, 83, and Thomas Hale, 89, along with former NYPD officers Joseph Esposito, 64, and John Minerva, 61. These individuals coached applicants on how to fraudulently fill out the disability forms, fail memory tests and falsely present their demeanor. In one secretly recorded telephone conversation, one of the “coaches” told an applicant to misspell words and miscalculate simple arithmetic.
Investigators first became suspicious when they noticed two retired police officers who had gun permits were receiving disability benefits for a mental disability. This led investigators to review other applications that were handled by Mr. Lavallee, which revealed similar handwriting and boilerplate descriptions in the applications. Their suspicions were later confirmed through YouTube and Facebook. Investigators used wiretaps and monitored internet activity, finding that those who claimed severe disabilities were leading fairly active lifestyles. Several websites showed defendants riding motorcycles and jet skis. One individual, who had uploaded a video of himself onto YouTube, was running a martial arts school. Another individual who claimed an inability to leave his home had shared pictures of himself on Facebook holding a large marlin while on a boat.
These arrests are the latest in the government crackdown on Social Security fraud. In August, more than 70 people in Puerto Rico were arrested on charges related to disability fraud. In West Virginia, a disability attorney and administrative law judge are being investigated for fraud.
It is a sorry state that people who are most deserving of these benefits are being denied. Those individuals who were indicted are essentially stealing money from individuals who desperately need help. Because of the recent focus on the disability system, it is more important than ever to make sure, to be honest when filing your application. The Social Security Administration(SSA) is going to be even more cautious about approving cases as a result of the fraudulent activity springing up around the country.
My best advice to anyone who is applying for disability benefits is this: Be as honest as possible and trust the system. If you have pled your case and you meet the criteria for disability, trust that SSA will recognize this and approve your case. Call a trusted attorney to ensure your application is handled properly, within the limits of the law and zealously argued from beginning to end!