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Long Island men among 32 indicted in NYC disability scheme

Nine men from Long Island were among 32 defendants charged Tuesday in an ongoing investigation into a multimillion-dollar Social Security disability fraud scheme that has led to the arrests of more than 80 retired New York City cops and firefighters, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. said Feb. 25.

On Tuesday, investigators rounded up an additional 28 defendants, including 16 retired police officers, four retired firefighters and a retired corrections employee, on second-degree grand larceny and fourth-degree criminal facilitation charges in connection with the probe. Last month, prosecutors in Manhattan charged 106 defendants for their alleged involvement.

The alleged ringleaders of the scam – Raymond Lavallee, 83, of Massapequa; Thomas Hale, 89, of Bellmore; Joseph Esposito, 64, of Valley Stream; and John Minerva, 61, of Bellmore – also faced a judge Tuesday on upgraded larceny and conspiracy charges, prosecutors said.

Hale’s son, Douglas, 53, of Mount Sinai, and Esposito’s son, Saverio “Sam” Esposito, 48, of Queens, were among the 28 suspects arrested Tuesday, prosecutors said. Four other Long Island residents were also arrested and charged Tuesday. They were identified as: Frank Marino, 52, of Oceanside; Vincent Nolie, 50, of West Islip; Kenneth O’Brien, 44, of East Moriches; and William Orfanos, 63, of Floral Park.

At a news conference last month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., said the total amount stolen through the alleged scheme could reach $400 million. As of Tuesday, federal authorities said they’ve calculated a loss of about $30 million in taxpayer money through the indicted defendants and noted a joint investigation remains active and ongoing.

According to Reuters, prosecutors allege many of the suspects each falsely collected up to $50,000 a year for psychiatric ailments, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which they said they suffered after Sept. 11, 2001. Many of those who received benefits said the disorders prevented them from working, or in some cases, leaving their homes.

Investigators said the ringleaders acted as “recruiters” who allegedly coached disability applicants on how to act during the exam and what to include in their applications. Prosecutors said they directed the applicants to lie about their conditions in order to obtain the benefits. In exchange, the ringleaders allegedly received cash payments of more than a year’s worth of benefits, the DA’s office said.

Federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday the Social Security Administration will suspend benefits of those charged, as well as their spouses and children.

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