Share This Page

Former NYC cops accused of feigned maladies

| Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, 8:03 p.m.

NEW YORK — One retired New York City 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 homebound was photographed aboard a Sea-Doo watercraft.

All were wrongly receiving thousands in federal disability benefits, prosecutors said on 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 during years, Vance said. The ringleaders made tens of thousands of dollars in secret kickbacks, Vance said.

The four — retired officer Joseph Esposito, 64; John Minerva, 61, a disability consultant with the detective's union; lawyer Raymond LaVallee, 83; and a benefits consultant, Thomas Hale, 89 — sat stolidly as they pleaded not guilty 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. Minerva did “what he thought was being done in the correct fashion,” said his lawyer, Glenn Hardy. “I don't think he was steering people or telling people what to say when they applied for those benefits.”

Hale's lawyer, Brian Griffin noted that according to prosecutors, many of the benefit-seekers had been found eligible for city disability pensions before they got federal benefits.

But prosecutors argued that eligibility for Social Security disability benefits is a higher bar — complete inability to work — than qualifying for a city worker disability pension. And they said the applicants strategically lied, with the ringleaders' guidance, to make themselves appear to meet it.

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.