Former New York police officers and firefighters are among 106 people indicted over a “massive fraud” worth hundreds of millions of dollars, some in connection with the September 11 attacks.
The accused allegedly collected tens of thousands of dollars a year in social security benefits – funded by US taxpayers – by claiming they were completely incapacitated by serious psychiatric disorders and other ailments.
But, according to court documents, they were in fact living normal lives – one of the accused flew a helicopter, while another played blackjack in Las Vegas.
One of the accused taught and performed mixed martial arts, but was still claiming benefits of typically between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.
Of the accused, 80 were retired police officers or firefighters.
“Many participants cynically manufactured claims of mental illness as a result of September 11, dishonouring the first responders who did serve their city at the expense of their own health and safety,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement.
The four main defendants conspired to help or make hundreds of applicants falsely claim disabilities in order to collect benefit payments and public pensions, the indictment and court documents showed.
Prosecutors said the applicants claimed that they suffered from a psychiatric condition that prevented them from working, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression.
“This alleged scam further depleted the already limited resources available for battling the real and complex conditions of PTSD and depression,” Mr Vance said.
“Many” claimed their experience during the 9/11 attacks on the city had caused their psychiatric condition, according to prosecutors.
New York City Police Department Commissioner William J. Bratton said: “The retired members of the NYPD indicted in this case have disgraced all first responders who perished during the search and rescue efforts on September 11, 2001, and those who subsequently died from 9/11 related illness, by exploiting their involvements that tragic day for personal gain.”