80 Police and Firefighters Charged as Social Media Pictures Help Unravel Sept. 11th Disability Fraud

A New York City police officer pays his respects at the South Pool of the 9/11 Memorial.

A New York City police officer pays his respects at the South Pool of the 9/11 Memorial.

By Elliot Hannon
On Tuesday, 80 retired New York City police officers and firefighters were charged with one of the largest disability frauds ever perpetrated, the New York Times reports. Many of the false claims for mental disability were based on the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, with the first responders citing conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression. The result, as the Times describes it, is “a sprawling decades-long scheme in which false mental disability claims by as many as 1,000 people cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to court papers.”

Court documents show that individuals were collecting between $30,000 and $50,000 a year based on their false claims with some of the accused amassing as much as $500,000. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the suspects “cynically manufactured claims of mental illness as a result of Sept 11th… dishonoring the first responders,” according to ABC News.
The indictment also accuses four men of masterminding the scheme and coaching applicants to the Social Security Disability Insurance program how “to lie about their psychiatric conditions and feign certain symptoms in order to obtain benefits to which they were not entitled,” according to the Times. The accused masterminds went so far as to coach “the officers how to dress and behave and how to muff questions to show they lacked concentration,” according to ABC News.

In a perhaps unsurprising twist the Internet, particularly Facebook, helped uncover the deception. Here’s what investigators found, via the Times:

The bail letter includes photographs culled from the Internet that show one riding a jet ski and others working at jobs ranging from helicopter pilot to martial arts instructor. One is shown fishing off the coast of Costa Rica and another sitting astride a motorcycle, while another appeared in a television news story selling cannoli at the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street in Manhattan.

Ogbeni Walor


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