Dishonor became absolute disgrace with the news that more than half of the 80 retired cops and firefighters arrested in New York for fraudulently seeking Social Security disability benefits had used the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a pretext.
“These links to 9/11 are not accurate,” Police Commissioner William Bratton noted at a big, multiagency press conference that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office held following the Tuesday arrests.
Bratton summarized his reaction in a word.
He reminded everyone of those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center and of those who continue to suffer from life-threatening illnesses related to 9/11. He said of the accused scamsters, “They disgraced themselves and embarrassed their families.”
On either side of Bratton and the other officials were two blown-up photos set upon easels. One was of retired cop Glenn Lieberman, who had received $175,758.40 from Social Security in addition to his NYPD pension after allegedly fraudulently attesting that he had been so traumatized by 9/11 that he was barely functional, unable to drive or shop or handle money. The picture shows him on a jet ski, flashing a big smile and giving the finger with both hands.
The other photo is of retired cop Richie Cosentino, who received $207,639.70 from Social Security under the same pretext, using nearly identical language. This picture was posted on his Facebook page and it shows him triumphantly holding a big sailfish fish he has just caught.
“It was an awesome day off the coast of Costa Rica,” he wrote.
He had better hope that the prosecutors do not take note of the date of the posting.
“September 11, 2012.”
On the 11th anniversary of 9/11, Cosentino clearly did not imagine that this photo would be shown at a press conference with him, not the fish, on display as the captured one.
As Bratton explained it, the investigation had commenced after Social Security investigators noticed that a considerable number of retired cops who had secured psychiatric disability awards had also applied for pistol permits.
“So we had a discrepancy,” Bratton said.
As the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau joined the probe, it was determined that many of these folks had used the same psychiatrists to substantiate their claims and described their symptoms as if from a common script:
“I nap on and off during the day… I have the TV on to keep me company… I was a healthy, active, productive person… I’m up and down all night long… My [fill in the family member] is always after me about my grooming…I’m unable to perform any type of work activity in or out of the house.”
The investigators also noted that the subjects used the same Long Island lawyer, Raymond Lavalle, a former FBI agent and onetime head of the Nassau County District Attorney’s rackets bureau. Some of the subjects were supposedly referred to Lavalle by John Minerva, who serves as a “disability consultant” with the NYPD Detectives Endowment Association. The subjects are said to have been coached by another “disability consultant” named Thomas Hale and by a retired cop named Joseph Esposito.
An intercepted phone conversation on January of last year recorded Esposito telling a subject who is about to be examined by Social Security officials, “When you get there, usually the first question they ask you is, ‘How did you get here?’ You’re gonna say, ‘My sister drove me.’ The next question they generally ask is ‘Who does the cooking, cleaning, shopping in your house?’ You’re gonna to say, ‘My mother.’”
Esposito goes on, “When you get to see the doctor, he’s gonna ask you questions. He’s not trying to trick you… They just want to see if you can concentrate. They’ll say to you, ‘But what do you do with yourself all day? How do you spend your day?’ You’re gonna tell ‘em, ‘I don’t sleep well at night. I’m up three, four times. Usually, I nap on and off during the day. I put the television on, you know, I keep changing channels ‘cause I can’t concentrate on the television. Just to hear a voice in the house.’”
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