The Boldest Attempts at Social Security Fraud
Every year, the Social Security Administration spends billions of dollars on social security disability benefits programs like SSI and SSDI. Being approved is notoriously difficult, and the majority of applicants will be denied. Because disability benefits are so difficult to obtain, people who are seeking approval for their claims often try to bolster their efforts by enlisting outside help, such as an attorney.
Unfortunately, some people who are seeking disability benefits do not go through legal channels, but instead, try to outwit the social security system by committing acts of fraud. They may succeed for months, years, or even decades. But, in the end, they often fail — sometimes spectacularly. In this blog entry, we’ve compiled some of the boldest attempts at social security fraud.
Bold and Boulder
Back in October, we wrote a post about Glenn Taylor and his “rocky” brush with disability fraud. In 2013, Taylor made national news for toppling a 2,000 pound, 200 million year old boulder in Utah’s surreal Goblin Valley State Park, so-named for the “goblin” boulder formations which build its alien landscape. At the time, honest claimants and nature lovers alike were outraged by the flagrant discrepancies between Taylor’s claims of debilitating back injury… and his apparent ability to physically unseat a one-ton hunk of rock. What no one knew at the time was how the case would develop.
As we approach March of 2014, the case has developed indeed.
Taylor, 45, is now facing charges of criminal mischief. While the term “mischief” might conjure up images of giggling pranksters, the allegations against Taylor are anything but light-hearted. If found guilty, Taylor could be convicted of committing a third-degree felony and face penalties of up to five years in prison (plus a hefty fine of $5,000).
David Hall, Taylor’s partner in crime, has made a statement… that the pair won’t be making any further statements. Hall says, “We’re just not going to be making any interview appointments, statements, anything. What’s said has already been said.”
Kentucky Ex-Mayor Faces Multiple Fraud Charges
When a layperson commits a crime, it’s newsworthy enough. When an elected official commits a crime, the scandal factor shoots through the roof.
In this case, Ruth Robinson, former Mayor of Martin, Kentucky — a normally quiet town with a population of just 633 — has been charged with misappropriating funds from a federal program, conspiracy to defraud the SSA, theft of social security benefits, and aggravated identity theft. To complicate matters further, Robinson has also been indicted on unrelated charges of federal vote-buying and committing acts of civil rights conspiracy.
At least Robinson will have company in the courtroom. The former Mayor is joined in many of her criminal charges by daughter Rita Whicker, city bookkeeper Ethel Lee Clouse, and city employee Ginger Michelle Halbert.
The four women were originally indicted in October of 2013 (the same time Glenn Taylor was making waves), with Halbert pleading guilty this month to charges of federal program fraud, conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft.
Fraud Abroad: Social Security Scam in Puerto Rico
Our next social security fraud disaster involves not just one or several people, but an entire ring containing a whopping 75 fraudsters.
In August of 2013, federal authorities launched a sting operation to blow the cover off a massive Puerto Rico disability fraud ring involving 71 claimants, three doctors, and worst of all, a former employee of the SSA.
The ex-SSA worker, Samuel Torres Crespo, was running an efficient — and costly — operation. Crespo would charge desperate claimants as much as $6,000 to create a fake (and approval-ready) application for benefits. Then, the three doctors involved in the scam would charge the claimants an additional $500 to supply fake psychiatric diagnoses justifying their awards.
The fraudulent doctors were identified by concerned employees of the Puerto Rico Disability Determination Service, who alerted higher authorities to the hollow medical write-ups. The 75 individuals involved in the scheme were promptly indicted, and five days later, arrests followed.
Some government officials fear this incident is simply one example of rampant social security corruption in Puerto Rico. A suspicious spike in disability claim approvals between 2006 and 2010 had already prompted the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to issue a written warning, while Representative Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) has stated, “That such fraud could occur in the first place raises serious and troubling questions regarding Social Security’s management of the disability program. Clearly, this isn’t a case of just a few bad apples.”
Former NYPD and FDNY Falsely Claim 9/11 Caused PTSD
We’ve saved the worst for last.
On September 11, 2001, New York City changed, the United States changed, and the world changed. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives when 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, crashing the massive jets into Manhattan’s iconic Twin Towers. Firefighters, police officers, and other rescue workers became the heroes of the day, frantically digging through burning rubble and choking soot in a desperate attempt to free any survivors from the ruins of what had been the World Trade Center just hours, minutes, moments earlier. The tragedy united the city and the nation, and the NYPD and FDNY gained a special spot in the national heart for their life-saving efforts.
It seems unthinkable that anyone would deliberately exploit the death, pain, and suffering of the 9/11 attacks for personal gain, let alone police officers and firefighters. But in the case of dozens of former firefighters and police officers of New York City, that seems to be exactly what has happened.
It’s a case that truly shocks the conscience. More than 100 ex-members of the FDNY and NYPD are now facing charges of social security disability fraud after making false disability claims — approximately half of which were claims that 9/11 caused debilitating PTSD.
For many rescue workers and everyday people involved in the gruesome aftermath of 9/11, PTSD is the grim reality. PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is commonly observed in soldiers, emergency responders, victims of abuse, and other individuals who witness and live through terrifying acts of violence. Today in New York, over 10,000 people are estimated to be struggling with PTSD as a direct result of the 9/11 attacks. These individuals endure nightmares, anxiety, insomnia, guilt, depression, and muscle tremors as a result.
But the individuals facing the current fraud charges are not among those 10,000.
In spite of claiming that PTSD stemming from 9/11 destroyed their ability to function, much less generate a steady income, emerging evidence points to just the opposite. Telephone conversations, testimony provided by undercover officers, even Facebook pages packed with cheery photos of motorcycling, fishing, helicopters, basketball — none of it is exactly in line with the devastating effects of PTSD.
Now, city attorneys are digging to the bottom of the scam.
Among the 106 people implicated in the fraud ring, four have been accused of masterminding the scheme. All four men deny the allegations against them, in spite of prosecutorial claims that each of the four received kickbacks of nearly $30,000 per disability applicant.
64-year-old Joseph Esposito, former member of the NYPD, also stands accused of coaching his accomplices on how to pass psychiatric exams conducted by the SSA. Esposito was recorded dispensing the following advice:
“When you’re talking to the guy, don’t look directly at him. 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.”
Cyrus R. Vance, Manhattan District Attorney, says, “The brazenness is shocking.”
Sadly, Vance is correct.
If you or a loved one has been charged with committing fraud, theft, or other white collar crimes, you need an aggressive Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to represent you in court. Contact the law offices of Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates online, or call (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania today.