More than 100 former police officers, firefighters and other city workers faked mental disabilities in order get tens of thousands of dollars in Social Security benefits a year, NBC 4 New York has learned.
But an investigation has revealed the former city workers were pursuing other activities that appeared to negate their claims. One police officer who claimed he was so mentally disabled was allegedly working as a martial arts instructor, officials said. Another who claimed he could not work was allegedly flying helicopters.
One got benefits because of a fear of crowds and yet was found to be selling cannolis in Little Italy during the San Genarro festival. And another went on to allegedly run a private security company.
Many allegedly claimed to be affected by their efforts on 9/11, yet investigators found many were not even near ground zero that day.
All allegedly got help gaming the system from the same two lawyers, ages 89 and 83, and two former police officers who in exchange allegedly took cash payments.
Investigators said one of the attorneys who helped run the scheme is Raymond Lavallee, who worked as an FBI agent in the 1950s and '60s. Calls to Lavallee’s home and law office were not returned Monday.
The criminal charges expected to be announced Tuesday will include 106 people in all.
The more than 100 workers were allegedly taught how to claim they were mentally scarred on SSID applications in order to collect $30,000 to $50,000 in benefits annually.
Investigators said Lavallee would receive thousands in cash payments from successful applicants that were at times left for him in paper bags on a park bench near his office.
Applicants were taught to claim that they could not cope with other people or were so mentally disabled that they could not even prepare a meal on their own. They were allegedly told by the four ringleaders to look disheveled in their interviews and claim they went for days without sleep.
Law enforcement sources said the 100 people being charged are just a first wave in what is a growing investigation. As many as 300 to 400 other former city workers are now facing scrutiny.
Many of those charged are expected to appear in Manhattan criminal court Tuesday.
District Attorney Cy Vance, along with investigators from the Social Security Administration, Homeland Security Investigations and the NYPD Internal Affairs bureau, are expected to announce details of the charges at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Spokesmen for the law enforcement agencies declined to comment on the expected charges Monday evening.