8 Jan 2014

Emergency workers accused of 9/11 benefit fraud

9:25 pm on 8 January 2014

Dozens of US former emergency service workers have been arrested in a sweeping fraud investigation involving federal disability benefits, according to New York authorities.

Prosecutors say 72 police officers, eight firefighters and five corrections officers are among those charged.

Some reportedly falsely claimed disabling conditions arising from the 11 September 2001 attacks. The fraud is believed to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the BBC reports.

"The brazenness is shocking," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said on Tuesday. "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."

Four men, including a retired police officer and a disability consultant with a New York detective's union, appeared in court on Tuesday on grand larceny charges.

The defendants, allegedly the ringleaders of the fraud operation, were released on bail of up to $US1 million. They stand accused of coaching the former emergency workers on how to feign mental health problems and fail memory tests in an effort to draw disability benefits, collecting tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

One retired police officer told doctors he suffered panic attacks and was unable to leave his house - only to post photographs of himself on social media riding a jet ski.

Another, who claimed he was incapable of social interaction, was found to be running a cannoli stand at a street festival.