In recent news, one of the largest social security and disability frauds was discovered. Ex-law enforcement officers are being accused of faking disabilities so that they could collect social security while they worked other jobs. For instance many ex-law enforcement officers applied for mental disability after the shocking occurrences of 9/11. However, the majority of them work jobs and travel the world, a few of them still have weapons as well. Four men are accused of orchestrating this operation, all of them plead innocent and claim that they are falsely accused.
How did it work?
Joseph Espocito was well known in the New York Law enforcement community for being able to help people get disability. When an officer wanted to receive disability they would go to him, and he would get them scheduled with the proper psychologists.
He would then coach them on how to fail the psychological exams, and how to answer the questions so that they would receive disability. He had them meet with the psychologist for at least a year, that way nobody would raise any suspicions. The Ex-law enforcement officer was then expected to give his first disability check to Joseph Espocito for his help.
A secret recorded phone call has Espocito on record teaching his client to misspell things on his papers, so that it will look like they are more stressed. He also told his client to tell the psychologists that they would keep their television on while at home, just so that they could hear another voice in the house, but that they would always change the channel because they would never stay focused.
Another example of Espocito’s teaching can be found in this phone conversation when he said “You know, pause for a second. You’re just trying to show that, you know, you’re depressed. You, you can’t, you, you don’t have any desire for anything, and if you can, you pretend you have panic attacks.”
Who were the leaders?
The alleged leaders of this scheme are: Attorney Raymond Lavelle, retired NYPD officer Thomas Hale, retired NYPD Det. John Minerva, and retired NYPD officer Joseph Espocito.
Each of these men are charged with both first and second degree grand larceny, and faces up to 25 years of prison if they are convicted.
All four of them proclaim their innocence.
Why were they under investigation?
The investigations began all the way back in 2008. This is when somebody realized that one of the ex-officers was receiving disability for PTSD, while he owned a firearm. Upon further investigation many other similar examples were found, including an ex-officer who owned a MMA gym. And others who had stated in their reports that they could no longer fly in an airplane due to mental stress, but who had gone on vacation to Costa Rica.
It is believed that this scheme has been going on since 1988. Over this time period estimates say that they believe the group defrauded tax payers of over $400 million through social security fraud. If the defendants are found guilty, the could face serious charges.
Bill Harrell is an attorney in Jacksonville, FL. University of FL College of Law, Trustee of the Florida Lawyers Action Group, Crystal Eagle Award recipient and Certified Civil Trial Attorney.