Scores of retired New York City police officers, firefighters and prison guards were charged Tuesday with faking psychiatric problems to get federal disability benefits — with some falsely claiming their conditions arose after the Sept. 11 attacks, prosecutors said.
Four ringleaders coached the former workers on how to falsely describe symptoms of depression and other mental health problems that allowed them to get payouts high as $500,000, said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. The ringleaders made tens of thousands in dollars in secret kickbacks, Vance said.
Among the retirees arrested were 72 city police officers, eight firefighters, five corrections officers and one Nassau County Police Department officer.
Investigators said the scam stretched back more than two decades, with the ex-officers and other workers collecting years’ worth of benefits for citing mental health problems so severe that they couldn’t work at all. The workers were coached on how to portray their problems, reporting that they were so psychologically damaged that they couldn’t take care of themselves, prosecutors said.
Many of the officers legitimately had physical disabilities that would have entitled them to state disability pensions, but would not have entitled them to federal Social Security disability insurance, which requires a complete inability to work. Internal Affairs Chief Charles Campisi said many of the officers exaggerated their psychological trauma to gain the Social Security benefits. Most claimed post-traumatic stress disorder and many said it was because of the Sept. 11 attacks, he said. The NYPD has no information that they weren’t actually working after the terrorist attack, just that they overstated the effect, he said.