A retired NYPD officer has been convicted of filing false Social Security Disability Insurance applications and reaping over $200,000 in benefits by falsely claiming to be suffering from mental illness, the Manhattan District Attorney announced yesterday. Kevin Hurley, 56, was among more than 100 people who have been indicted for and pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government by claiming false psychiatric disabilities. Many were former police officers and firefighters, and claimed that their disabilities were the result of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
According to the indictment filed by DA Cyrus Vance in 2014, and the guilty pleas of defendants, four principal defendants—Raymond Lavallee, 83, Thomas Hale, 89, Joseph Esposito, 64 and John Minerva, 61—were behind the $400 million scheme, helping over 100 people apply for disability benefits and coaching them on how to mimic the symptoms of depression and PTSD.
Esposito, a retired NYPD officer, and Minerva, a disability consultant for the union that represents NYPD detectives, were usually the ones to bring applicants into the scheme, the DA's office said. They would then allegedly refer them to Lavallee, an attorney, and Hale, a pension consultant who would coach them on how to describe their symptoms.
Hale, Esposito, and Minerva have been convicted of grand larceny in the first degree, and Lavallee has been convicted of conspiracy in the fourth degree. The former three face up to 25 years in prison each, and the latter faces up to four years.
When the massive indictment was announced, prosecutors noted that many of the accused were living lifestyles that appeared to contradict their applications for disability benefits. Some who claimed to be too disabled to work at all had photos online showing them working as martial arts instructors, helicopter pilots, and cannoli-sellers. Vance said at the time that "the brazenness is shocking."
Some of those who applied for benefits did have legitimate disabilities, the DA's office noted, but while those could have entitled them to receive state disability pensions, they didn't necessarily qualify them for SSDI benefits, as those require that applicants demonstrate a total inability to work.
"Taxpayers paid the price for this blatant abuse of the social safety net for far too long," Vance said. "This defendant, like others convicted in connection with this scheme, purposefully sought out individuals who could help him fraudulently obtain benefits to which he was not entitled, thereby depleting the resources available to legitimately disabled individuals."
Hurley was convicted after three days of deliberation by a jury in Manhattan State Supreme Court. According to the New York Times, his lawyer argued that Hurley was in fact disabled, and that he'd been manipulated by the principal defendants, who he said "victimized these guys."
But prosecutors argued that while Hurley said on his benefit applications that he was too depressed and subject to panic attacks to drive, shop, or manage his own finances, he had in fact paid all of his bills on time, driven his car over 25,000 miles in a year, and frequently shopped and eaten at restaurants. From 2005 to 2013, he reportedly collected $2,000 a month in federal disability benefits.
Hurley has been convicted of grand larceny in the second degree, a class C felony that could earn him up to 15 years in prison. He'll be sentenced on June 2nd, 2016.