Prosecutors brought charges Tuesday in what they call a massive fraud case involving hundreds of former city workers, including police officers and firefighters, charged with scamming the system to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds they weren't entitled to. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
They claimed that depression and other mental illnesses left them totally unable to work. Many blamed the September 11th attacks, most of them former New York City police officers. But investigators say more than 100 retired city employees simply lied in order steal millions of dollars in disability funds.
New Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said that the alleged fraudsters disgust him.
"Particularly the 72 former members of the New York City Police Department who have certainly disgraced themselves and embarrassed their families with their abuse of this system," Bratton said.
Firefighters and correction officers are also charged. Many were already getting physical disability benefits from the city, but prosecutors say they got extra money from social security by faking anxiety and a fear of being in public, though pictures seem to tell a different story.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said that four ringleaders recruited the retirees and got up to $50,000 in kickbacks from each of them.
"Specifically, they instructed them on how to intentionally fail memory tests, how to dress when they presented themselves, and how to present their demeanor," Vance said.
Vance said that most of the applications appeared to to be in the same handwriting and described the same symptoms.
The Social Security Administration was also alarmed that so many former police officers said that they were now mentally incapable of owning guns, but Charles Campisi, the head of the NYPD's internal affairs bureau, said that they did have their guns.
"When we dug deep and we checked the forms that they had filed with the police department in order to get pistol permits, they indicated that they were of sound mind and were able legally to possess this permits," Campisi said. "So we had a discrepancy in the two official forms."
Brian Griffin, the attorney for one of the alleged ringleaders, retired officer Joseph Esposito, told NY1 that his client will fight the charges.
"He came to court today, and he said two words that are very important: not guilty," Griffin said.
Police and prosecutors say that this is only the beginning of the investigation, and that hundreds of others could be arrested for stealing up to $400 million from the government.