New York • One retired police officer who said he couldn’t work taught martial arts, prosecutors said. Another who claimed he was incapable of social interactions manned a cannoli stand at a street festival, they said. A third who said his depression was so crippling that it kept him housebound was photographed aboard a Sea-Doo watercraft.
All were wrongly receiving thousands in federal disability benefits, prosecutors said Tuesday in announcing a sweeping fraud case involving scores of retired officers, as well as former firefighters and jail guards. The retirees faked psychiatric problems, authorities said, and some falsely claimed their conditions arose after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The brazenness is shocking," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
Four ringleaders coached the former workers on how to feign depression and other mental health problems that allowed them to get payouts high as $500,000 over years, Vance said. The ringleaders made tens of thousands of dollars in secret kickbacks, Vance said. The four sat stolidly as they pleaded not guilty Tuesday to high-level grand larceny charges. All were released on bail, ranging from $250,000 to $1 million.
Their lawyers said all four staunchly denied the accusations, and some noted that their clients had legitimate jobs helping people seek benefits.
They were taught how to fail memory tests and how to act like a person suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, prosecutors said. If they were claiming to be traumatized by 9/11, "they were instructed to say that they were afraid of planes or they were afraid of tall buildings," Assistant District Attorney Christopher Santora told a judge.
More than 100 were arrested, including 72 city police officers, eight firefighters, five Corrections officers and one Nassau County Police Department officer.
Police Commissioner William Bratton said the arrests were an effort to ensure "the memories of those who did in fact contribute their lives or their physical well-being to dealing with 9/11 are not sullied."
Former police officer Louis Hurtado taught martial arts in Odessa, Fla., according to the studio’s website. Online photos showed onetime cop Joseph Morrone smiling at the cannoli stand during a TV interview during the San Gennaro Festival in 2009. In another photo, a smiling, tanned Glen Lieberman, a retired officer, gestures obscenely at the camera from aboard a watercraft.
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