New York tabloids are having a field day with the news that dozens of ex-cops have been charged with scamming as much as $400 million in Social Security disability benefits. The bigger outrage is that this grand taxpayer theft went undetected for over two decades (25 years) and is merely part of the national scandal that the disability program has become.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. this week charged 102 retirees, including 80 former New York police officers and firefighters, with making phony disability claims since as far back as 1988 to obtain Social Security benefits and tax-free pensions equalling up to 75% of their pay.

About half of the cheats attributed their “disabilities” to the World Trade Center disaster on  9/11, even if they never even worked at Ground Zero. 

Heading the alleged racket were 64-year-old retired cop Joseph Esposito and 61-year-old detectives’ union consultant John Minerva. They recruited and then directed disability applicants to Raymond Lavallee, an 83-year-old former Nassau County prosecutor, and 89-year-old Thomas Hale who assists disability applicants. They are alleged to have acted much like college counselors, except their jobs were to make their clients look inept.

The group’s suspected ringleaders — retired officer Joseph Esposito, 64; detectives’ union disability consultant John Minerva, 61; lawyer and former FBI agent and suburban prosecutor Raymond Lavallee, 83; and benefits consultant Thomas Hale, 89. Messrs. Hale and Esposito allegedly coached applicants to feign psychiatric impairments by failing memory tests, dressing shabbily, and describing symptoms with statements such as “My [family member] is always after me about my grooming.” Many said they couldn’t leave the house except for short walks.

They claimed all this even as they have active lives and second careers. One ex-cop who claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) posted a YouTube video of himself teaching karate. Was he trying to make the cut for “America’s Dumbest Cops”?

{(Glenn Liebermann, shown above, received $175,758.40 in benefits. (Image source: NY Manhattan District attorneys Office)}

{(Richard Cosintino, shown above, is seen on a boat sword fishing. He received $207,639.70 in payments. (Image Source: NY Manhattan District attorneys Office.)}

Online photographs showed others riding motorcycles and jet skis, which we doubt passes as physical therapy.

The four ringleaders allegedly charged a flat fee that ranged from $20,000 to $50,000 per applicant. Mr. Lavallee also received $6,000 per applicant in attorney’s fees from the Social Security Administration.  He must really be enjoying his Golden Years.

Prosecutors say two doctors have also been arrested for allegedly agreeing to falsify claims in return for a cut of the disability benefits.

Mr. Vance says the 102 indicted retirees collected on average $210,000 in benefits.

Since most are still in their 40s or early 50s, each could have extracted hundreds of thousands more had the racket continued. One alleged fraudster is only 32 years old. Mr. Vance says as many as 1,000 people may have been involved in the scheme, and the investigation is continuing.

What’s remarkable about all this is that it’s merely an extreme example of what has been happening across the country. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs issued an amazing report last October describing how a Kentucky-based disability law firm colluded with a Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) David Daugherty to abuse the program. The report says that disability attorney Eric Conn employed attractive women to recruit applicants and hired doctors with records of ethical problems to falsify medical opinions.

He then steered his clients’ applications to ALJ David Daugherty. Administrative law judges re-evaluate de novo applications that have been rejected. Some like Judge Daugherty have a reputation for being “intellectually lazy,” to quote his professional colleagues. Judge Daugherty approved benefits in more than 99% of cases compared to a program-wide average of 62%, which is dubious enough. Between 2005 and 2011, he awarded an estimated $2.5 billion in lifetime benefits—while rarely being in the office.

Two women who worked in the SSA’s West Virginia office have filed a civil suit against Mr. Conn and Judge Daugherty. Mr. Conn responded in a statement that “it is noteworthy that the U.S. government studied the lawsuit for a year and a half and decided not to join it or get involved” and that “I have always tried to represent my clients in the best and most appropriate way possible, within all the laws and rules.” Neither man would answer questions at a Senate hearing in October 2013.

The gist of the Senate report is that the SSA’s  disability program (SSDI) has vague criteria for qualifying and lacks even the barest oversight, which makes it ripe for abuse. ALJs decide cases independently and are virtually immune to disciplinary action. Politicians enable the fraudsters by denouncing anyone who proposes a fix as an enemy of the disabled.

The truth is that opponents of reform are the ones hurting the truly disabled. The charts pictured above show how disability claims have exploded—to 8.9 million last year from 5.9 million in 2003 and 2.7 million in 1985. Not coincidentally, that is the year Congress relaxed eligibility standards to make it easier for people reporting pain, discomfort and mental illness to qualify for benefits. Like the jet-skiers in New York.

The second chart shows that all of these claims are bleeding the Social Security disability trust fund, which paid out $137 billion in benefits in 2012 or nearly twice as much as a decade ago. Without reform, the fund is on track to go broke in 2016, triggering either a 20% cut in benefits for all recipients or one more taxpayer bailout.

You’d think that fixing this mess would be a Washington priority, but Mr. Coburn and a few others are voices in the wilderness. Instead the country is treated to a political game over extended jobless benefits that might even be affordable if the Obama Administration cared a whit about stopping disability fraud. The polls say public trust in government is falling to new lows, but judging by the open secret of disability insurance scams it isn’t nearly low enough. (WSJ, Opinion, p.A12, 10 Jan 2014)

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS article:

NYPD, FDNY members cashed in on bogus 9/11 woes as part of massive $400M Social Security fraud: prosecutor

Dozens of former cops and firefighters claiming 9/11 trauma were among the 106 indicted for gaming the Social Security disability system to take early retirement and leech off the taxpayers, authorities said.

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Photo from Facebook page of Glenn Lieberman, who is accused of participating in a Social Security disability scam to the tune of $175,758.40 according to the Manhattan DA’s office.

They spat on the memory of the real victims of 9/11.

Dozens of former city cops and firefighters used the 2001 terror attacks as an excuse to fund carefree lifestyles on the taxpayer’s dime, authorities said Tuesday.

The former NYPD and FDNY members — who claimed to have suffered stress-related woes from the World Trade Center attacks — were among 106 people indicted for a longstanding Social Security disability scam, officials said.

A former Brooklyn cop, Glenn Lieberman, 44, became the unwitting poster boy for the sprawling ripoff ring, which includes 71 other retired city cops, eight former firefighters and five ex-correction employees.

Lieberman, accused of being part of the crooked crew that soaked taxpayers for $21.5 million, showed his contempt in an undated photo released by prosecutors with a sick grin and two extended middle fingers.

The alleged ringleaders of the disability scam that dated back to 1988.

Joe Marino; Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News

The alleged ringleaders of the disability scam that dated back to 1988.

He and the former cops and firefighters were coached by ringleaders to act dysfunctional and steered to shady doctors who helped green-light disability payments of anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 a year, the 205-count indictment charges.

RELATED: CITY COPS, FIREFIGHTERS SUSPECTED OF SCAMMING SOCIAL SECURITY

“I can only express my disgust at the actions of the individuals involved in this scheme,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

He said he was particularly chagrined that 72 former members of the NYPD “disgraced themselves, embarrassed their families.”

“The idea that many of them chose the events of 9/11 to claim as the bases for this disability brings further dishonor to themselves,” Bratton added.

NYPD retiree Richard Cosentino felt good enough for marlin fishing in Costa Rica.

NYPD retiree Richard Cosentino felt good enough for marlin fishing in Costa Rica.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. suggested there might be additional indictments beyond those announced Tuesday by the time they wrap up the probe. The scammers operated from January 1988 until last month, and some 1,000 people filed fraudulent claims for as much as $400 million, Vance said.

The suspects flaunted their money and carefree lifestyle on social media, apparently never dreaming they would be caught.

“The brazenness is shocking,” said Vance.

RELATED: 2 TO SURRENDER IN NYC DISABILITY SCAM: SOURCES

Take Lieberman, an ex-Brooklyn South Gangs officer who quit the force in 2006 after 19 years on the job and collected $175,758.40 in disability payments based on a bogus claim of having a psychiatric disorder, prosecutors charged.

Surveillance photo shows Darrin Lamantia, a cop who retired on a disability claim, playing basketball.

Surveillance photo shows Darrin Lamantia, a cop who retired on a disability claim, playing basketball.

But the ex-cop, who now lives in Palm Beach, Fla., doesn’t look like a tortured soul as he sits on a Jet-Ski and flips a pair of birds in the photo.

Lieberman, who is charged with second-degree grand larceny and criminal solicitation, could not be reached for comment. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

But he was not the only suspect who lived the good life thanks to the fraudulent payments, officials said.

Vincent Lamantia, 43, a retired NYPD officer, used the $150,000 in disability money he collected between May 2010 and June 2013 to “fund his lifestyle,” Assistant District Attorney Bryan Serino said.

“He bragged about what he was doing in a series of YouTube videos,” Serino added.

Workers sift through the pile of rubble at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terror attacks.

ROBERTO BOREA/AP

Workers sift through the pile of rubble at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terror attacks.

RELATED: BERNIE KERIK RIPS ATTORNEY JOE TACOPINA IN BAR COMPLAINT

Richard Cosentino, a 49-year-old retired NYPD officer who now lives in New Hampshire, posted a photo of himself on Facebook with a massive marlin he caught.

“It was an awesome day off the coast of Costa Rica,” he wrote on Sept. 11, 2012, while many New Yorkers were marking the anniversary of the terror attacks.

Prosecutors say Cosentino stole nearly $208,000 between May 2008 and June 2013. He appears happy and functional in his picture.

Louis (Shidoshi) Hurtado, a 60-year-old former NYPD officer, has collected a whopping $470,395.20 since June 1989.

This flow chart provided by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office shows the layers of the scam and the alleged ringleaders.

This flow chart provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office shows the layers of the scam and the alleged ringleaders.

But being diagnosed with psychiatric problems didn’t stop him from running his own mixed martial arts school outside Tampa and boasting on its website about serving as a “personal bodyguard” to stars including Sean Connery and James Caan.

Prosecutors said the four ringleaders of the scheme should have known better.

RELATED: I’M TELLING YA, I’M A HERO!

Raymond Lavallee, 83, of Massapequa, L.I., accused of being the brains of the operation, is a former FBI agent who once ran the rackets bureau at the Nassau County DA’s office.

Thomas Hale, 89, of Bellmore, L.I., who allegedly served as Lavallee’s right-hand man, is a pension consultant.

Civilian worker Joseph Morrone (center) helps dish cannolis at the San Gennaro festival.

Civilian worker Joseph Morrone (center) helps dish cannolis at the San Gennaro festival.

Joseph Esposito, 64, of Valley Stream, L.I., a retired New York police officer, allegedly recruited many of the crooked cops and firefighters.

And John Minerva, 61, of Malverne, L.I., also allegedly steered people into the scam. He has been suspended from the Detectives Endowment Association.

The four alleged ringleaders are charged with first- and second-degree grand larceny and attempted second-degree grand larceny. Each faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Esposito said nothing when he turned himself in earlier Tuesday.

RELATED: CON MAN USED CLAIMS OF BEING 9/11 RESPONDER TO GET CLOSE TO CELEBRITIES

John Stefanowski, an ex-cop, loves golf.

John Stefanowski, an ex-cop, loves golf.

“While these are serious allegations, we were aware that they were coming,” his lawyer, Brian Griffin, said. “We did not avoid them.”

The lawyers for the other accused ringleaders protested their clients’ innocence.

Minerva’s lawyer, Glenn Hardy, said: “My client’s involvement in this scheme was minimal at best.”

Joseph Conway, who represents Hale, said his client was a “decorated World War II veteran.”

“For the last 30 years, he’s run a legitimate consulting company,” Conway said. “He vehemently denies any wrongdoing.”

John Famularo, an ex-Finest and motorcycle enthusiast, is accused of taking more than $340,000 in the scam.

John Famularo, an ex-Finest and motorcycle enthusiast, is accused of taking more than $340,000 in the scam.

Lavallee’s lawyer, Raymond Perini, said his client is a Korean War vet and former G-man who investigated organized crime in New York and Miami.

RELATED: GROUND ZERO ‘HERO’ ARRESTED

“He’s denied each and every allegation,” Perini said.

In an 11-page bail letter addressed to Justice Daniel Fitzgerald, prosecutors said cops seeking to claim a disability would seek out Esposito or Minerva, who would then steer them to Hale and Lavallee.

But it was Esposito who “coached” the applicants on what to say to doctors and urged them to “pretend” to have “panic attacks.”

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said he can only express his disgust over Social Security scheme.

JB NICHOLAS FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said he can only express his disgust over Social Security scheme.

“You’re gonna tell ’em, ‘I don’t sleep well at night,’ ” Esposito was caught on a wiretap telling one defendant, Jacqueline Powell. “I’m up three, four times.”

Esposito and the other ringleaders got a kickback for every patient diagnosed with a stress-related illness, prosecutors charged. So did at least two doctors who were part of the scam.

None of the doctors involved has been named or indicted but they could face charges at a later date, officials said.

The DA’s office took on the probe after a Social Security official noticed a series of applications that all seem to be written with the same hand and that all had similar diagnoses.

The NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau joined the probe and uncovered the retired officers allegedly participating in the ripoff.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said the union doesn’t “condone anyone filing false claims.”

With Larry McShane

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/4-surrender-social-security-scam-article-1.1568664#ixzz2q47HEfUl

During the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on Thursday January 16th, Rep. Tim Griffin (R- Ark.) raised questions about the disability program’s efficiency and accuracy in the wake of recent high-profile fraud cases.

Social Security Administration Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll and SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin testified before the subcommittee about the SSA’s ability to root out fraud and handle employees who are implicated in a scheme.

Colvin testified that 99 percent of disability payments are made correctly. Griffin, however, noted recent disability schemes in New York, Puerto Rico and West Virginia and challenged the accuracy of Colvin’s claim.

That talking point, Griffin said, “needs to be erased” because the nature of fraud makes it impossible to know how rampant abuse of Social Security disability has become.

Griffin also questioned the SSA’s ability to reprimand and fire SSA employees who are investigated or implicated in disability schemes.

“…We all know that in order to fire someone, they do not have to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law applying (the) beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” Griffin said. “That’s not the standard to fire people.”

O’Carroll said the preference is to place an employee on leave without pay while investigating criminal activities; however, sometimes employees are left in place and monitored in an effort to identify co-conspirators.

Ms. Colvin is running the agency until the White House nominates a commissioner, and the White House has not signaled when it might move on the vacancy.

Another 28 former NYPD officers and firefighters arrested in $400million disability benefits scheme

  • Dozens more arrested in social security disability scam totaled $400million
  • Of those arrested today, 16 were retired NYPD officers, four were ex-firefighters, one worked for both NYPD and FDNY among others
  • Comes after more than 100 other former New York police officers and firefighters were arrested in January
  • Were ‘coached’ on how to appear to be suffering from PTSD and other physical and psychological conditions
  • Some claimed that their disabilities stemmed from 9/11 clean up

By Meghan Keneally

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Dozens more retired New York police officers and firefighters have been arrested in connection to the disability benefits fraud scheme.

Another 28 people have been arrested throughout the day, making this the second round of arrests in the wide-ranging social security benefits scheme.

The plot was first reported in January when the Manhattan District Attorney announced that more than 100 people were arrested after being involved in a longterm plot wherein they claimed to have disabilities like post traumatic stress disorder in an effort to steal hundreds of thousands from the government.

Being taken in: This is one of the 28 former police and firefighters who were arrested today for their alleged involvement in the benefit fraud scheme that stole up to $400million from taxpayers

Being taken in: This is one of the 28 former police and firefighters who were arrested today for their alleged involvement in the benefit fraud scheme that stole up to $400million from taxpayers

 

Tarnishing the badge: The latest batch of suspects have been named and have been rounded up

Tarnishing the badge: The latest batch of suspects have been named and have been rounded up

 

Perp walk: The 28 individuals- including at least six women- were brought to authorities in Manhattan on Tuesday

Perp walk: The 28 individuals- including at least six women- were brought to authorities in Manhattan on Tuesday

 

The latest 28 offenders have been named but not identified in pictured.

One of the most interesting arrests is that of former police officer Sam Esposito, whose father Joseph was arrested last month after being labeled one of the scheme’s ‘ringleaders’.

Of the latest arrests, 16 were retired NYPD officers, four were from the fire department, one was from both the fire department and then police department and another was from the department of corrections.

 

Aside from those 21 individuals, there were seven others who were arrested today and the list of all 28 names was released publicly but it does not indicate which suspect corresponded with which agency.

‘Last month’s indictment was the first step in ending a massive fraud against American taxpayers,’ said District Attorney Cy Vance in a statement.

‘Today, dozens of additional defendants have been charged with fabricating psychiatric conditions in order to fraudulently obtain Social Security Disability insurance, a critically important social safety net reserved for those truly in need.

Warmer waters: Like a handful of other disability recipients before him, William Korinek (seen here with his wife) moved down to Florida after retiring from the New York force

Warmer waters: Like a handful of other disability recipients before him, William Korinek (seen here with his wife) moved down to Florida after retiring from the New York force

 

‘These defendants are accused of gaming the system by lying about their lifestyle, including their ability to work, drive, handle money, shop, and socialize, in order to obtain benefits to which they were not entitled.

Caught: Michael Guicie of Manalapan, New Jersey was one of the 28 accused

Caught: Michael Guicie of Manalapan, New Jersey was one of the 28 accused

 

‘Their lies were repetitive and extensive. My Office is continuing to work with the U.S. Social Security Administration to bring additional cases, where appropriate.’

All told, prosecutors told The New York Daily News that up to $400million may have been netted by the schemers, and it is entirely possible that hundreds of others could be arrested.

There were 102 people who were indicted as recipients in the fraudulent benefits scheme on January 7.

The recipients were a mix of 72 former NYPD officers, eight former fire fighters, and other corrections officers all who made up different physical and psychological conditions that they reportedly incurred on the job.

Some of the accused had been falsely claiming disability funds since the 1980s- with the help of four administrative ringleaders- while others only started after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Many were coached about how they could appear depressed or in the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and others said that their work on Ground Zero led them to feel incapacitated in large crowds.

The roles of the individuals arrested today and the bogus claims that they allegedly made have yet to be explicitly laid out.

Under cover: Some of the schemers had been benefiting from ill-earned disability payments for decades

Under cover: Some of the schemers had been benefiting from ill-earned disability payments for decades

 

Waiting for the story: In the District Attorney's earlier round up of more than 100 recipients, they even told how they were determined to be falsifying their claims

Waiting for the story: In the District Attorney’s earlier round up of more than 100 recipients, they even told how they were determined to be falsifying their claims

When the District Attorney’s office made their case in January, they released photos of some of the accused blatantly showing off their wealth and behaving in ways that would been impossible if their disability claims were true.

Glenn Lieberman, 48, was held up by the New York District Attorney as one of the poster boys for the widespread scam.

Rounding them up: The 28 new suspects are being brought into the Manhattan District Attorney's office over the course of Tuesday- many of whom are now in the custody of their former colleagues

Rounding them up: The 28 new suspects are being brought into the Manhattan District Attorney’s office over the course of Tuesday- many of whom are now in the custody of their former colleagues

 

Walk of shame: This new suspect tries to hide his face using an Under Armor hat

Walk of shame: This new suspect tries to hide his face using an Under Armor hat

 

The former police officer was living in a rented $1.5million  waterfront mansion that has a pool and access to a waterway where he parked his two jet skis at the time of his arrest.

The officers were not the only ones in on the scheme, as The Post reports that some of the accused’ siblings pulled the same move.

Vincent LaMantia is one of the 102 indicted fraudsters, and his siblings Darrin, Karen and Thomas all told officials that they had psychiatric ailments that made it impossible for them to hold down a job.

All told, the Staten Island siblings collected $596,000- with the largest portion- $287,000- going to Thomas as he began making disability claims in 2002.

Their time behind bars: These three men were brought in to the DA's office on Tuesday

Their time behind bars: These three men were brought in to the DA's office on Tuesday

Their time behind bars: These three men were brought in to the DA's office on Tuesday

 

Their time behind bars: These three men were brought in to the DA’s office on Tuesday

Vincent, 43, collected $148,000 and the remaining $161,000 was split between Karen, Kevin and Darrin.

 

Many of the fraudsters left a virtual trail, including Vincent LaMantia who posted a motivational video online (which has now been removed) where he talked about ways to get rich quick. 

Another such example was that of Joseph Morrone, who told authorities that his work after the September 11th attacks left him with a debilitating fear of crowds.

On Facebook, he was pictured selling cannolis at the crowded San Gennaro festival in Little Italy.

The suspicion is that there were a handful of ‘crooked’ lawyers and doctors who worked with the responders in question and were fully aware of how to ‘game the system’.

The four alleged ‘ringleaders’ were identified first, and it is clear that their positions within the NYPD and background in legal work helped them evade capture for years.

Sending a message: Glenn Lieberman is pictured on a jet ski, clearly not as incapacitated as he claimed to be in his benefit filing. He was one of the original 102 people caught in the first bust in January

Sending a message: Glenn Lieberman is pictured on a jet ski, clearly not as incapacitated as he claimed to be in his benefit filing. He was one of the original 102 people caught in the first bust in January

 

Active: Rich Cosentino collected a total of $207639 since May 2008

Active: Rich Cosentino collected a total of $207639 since May 2008

Participants would start out by contacting John Minerva, 61, a Detectives Endowment Association consultant, or Joseph Esposito, 64, a retired member of the NYPD.

Minerva or Esposito would then refer the fraudsters to one of two lawyers who were in on the scheme- Thomas Hale, 89, and former FBI agent Raymond Lavallee, 83.

All four are charged with first and second degree grand larceny. The 9/11 disability claims are not the first that the four men have had a hand in, as ABC reports that they are believed to have been running disability scams since 1988.

The lawyers put the schemers in touch with two different doctors- but not after some coaching.