Nearly 100 suspects – many of them city cops and firefighters falsely claiming they were traumatized on 9/11 - were busted Tuesday in a huge mental disability pension fraud scam that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, sources told The Post.
The fraudsters were in cahoots with doctors and lawyers who helped them fake various mental disabilities so they could cash in on fat Social Security disability pensions totaling tens of thousands of dollars a year.
But the investigation showed that many of the supposedly burned-out pensioners were living stress-free lives – with one riding a jet ski, another teaching martial arts and a third piloting a helicopter, sources said.
And while the investigation has netted more than 100 to date, more than 900 others may also be on the hook as the probe proceeds, sources said.
DA Cyrus Vance’s office discovered the scam after investigating an individual who was collecting Social Security disability payments, sources said.
Investigators found he clearly was not disabled, and the probe mushroomed from there, they said.
One of the NYPD and FDNY retirees accused of Social Security disability fraud.
The DA has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday at 1 p.m. to announce the details of the scam, which dates back to at least 1988.
A 200-page indictment said the greedy scammers collected between $30,000 and $50,000 a year based on bogus claims that they were totally incapacitated by serious psychiatric and mental health problems, including depression, acute anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many shamelessly exploited the 9/11 terror attacks to cash in, prosecutors said.
But the investigation – including surveillance and scrutiny of their Facebook and other social media – told a shockingly different story.
John Minerva, left, with his lawyer, as NYPD and FDNY retirees turned themselves in Tuesday.Photo: Dennis A. Clark
Probers gathered photos of the jet skier, martial arts instructor and chopper pilot, as well as others of scammers who claimed they could not work riding a motorcycle and deep sea fishing off the coast of Costa Rica.
The probe even netted a retiree who claimed he had a dire fear of large crowds – but was comically spotted selling cannolis at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy.
The scammers allegedly worked with doctors and lawyers who coached them to act like mental patients when they were being examined and interviewed about their Social Security claims.
Four of those indicted were accused of being ringleaders who would help the cops and firefighters get the bogus pensions and then be repaid with kickbacks, sources said.
The head scammers include Raymond Lavallee, 83, a Nassau County lawyer and former FBI agent and prosecutor, and retired cop John Minerva, 61, who worked on pension requests for an NYPD union.
Sources said Lavallee raked in thousands in cash payoffs - much of it in paper bags left on a park bench near his workplace.
The other ringleaders allegedly included pension consultant Thomas Hale, and Joseph Esposito, 64, a retired NYPD cop who recruited many of his colleagues into the con.
Those busted Tuesday were scheduled to be arraigned in Manhattan Supreme Court on first- and second-degree grand larceny and attempted second-degree grand larceny charges.
The other scammers – who received the bogus payouts - were charged with second-degree grand larceny and second-degree attempted grand larceny