What can fairly be characterized as one of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s most notable and significant indictments to date, Gotham’s chief law enforcement officer announced the indictment of dozens of former New York City police officers and firemen in a Social Security fraud scheme tied to 9/11 retirements. As tweeted by Vance, “[t]he charged scam went on for decades & investigators estimate that the amount stolen from taxpayers could reach $400 million.” Based on the allegations, approximately 80 former members of the NYPD and FDNY will face varying criminal counts including Grand Larceny in the First Degree (New York Penal Law 155.42) and Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 155.40) based on the alleged conduct of obtaining between $30,000 to $50,000 a year in bogus mental health benefits from the Department of Social Security for one and two decades. Other lesser felonies may be charged in the indictment including First Degree Offering a False Instrument for Filing (New York Penal Law 175.35) and similar offenses.
Because the law allows prosecutors to aggregate the benefit obtained from one “victim” by one alleged perpetrator of a larceny crime, the alleged fake claims made here can be added up for the specific individual associated with a particular theft. Additionally, a ring leader who has his hand in completing the larceny offenses can potentially be charged as an accomplice making him liable for more than what he personally stole. For example, if a former detective, police officer or firefighter is accused of falsely obtaining $35,000 in benefits a year for ten years, that defendant would be potentially liable for $350,000. Because the amount is greater than $50,000, but less than $1,000,000, the applicable crime he would face would be Second Degree Grand Larceny. If the total exceeded $1,000,000, whether the accused was charged as an individual in the aggregate or as an accomplice in multiple crimes, prosecutors would likely charge Grand Larceny in the First Degree. An alternative theory would permit prosecutors to charge the head schemer who had his hands in many pots for each of the separate Second Degree Grand Larceny offenses. Whether one faces a conviction for NY PL 155.42 or NY PL 155.40 is relevant. The former crime carries a mandatory term of imprisonment upon conviction of one to three years and as much as eight and one third to twenty five. The latter offense is punishable by “only” as long as five to fifteen years in prison.
The case against these defendants is notable for many reasons. First, if the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting a case that involves Social Security, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York could have grabbed the investigation and arrest. Either District Attorney Vance initiated the investigation or flexed his office’s muscle is unknown, but the significance is clear. Vance means business.
As the case unfolds, there will certainly be many interesting issues that arise regardless of whether State or Federal prosecutors ran with the case. Unlike an indictment where prosecutors argue individuals suffered bogus physical injuries where the effects of those injuries and the injuries themselves are visible to the outside world, this case appears quite different. It is a much more difficult task for prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these police officers and firefighters did not suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. One could be camping, jet skiing and even working at a City street fair one day, but be unable to work as a firefighter, police officer or in any other capacity the hours or days later. Armed with medical confirmation of mental health issues, anecdotal evidence from families and friends and other relevant materials, many of the accused are likely ready to give Manhattan prosecutors a very real fight. As in every case, an accusation is not proof of any wrongdoing. There very well could be men and women picked up in the magnitude and hysteria of the alleged scheme who have done nothing wrong.
To learn more about the New York crimes of Grand Larceny, Offering a False Instrument for Filing or other New York White Collar Crimes, review any of the websites and blogs listed below (New-York-Lawyers.org is the central website).
Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers at Saland Law PC represent clients investigated for and accused of larceny, theft and fraud crimes throughout the New York City area.