The Manhattan district attorney has indicted 106 defendants for a massive fraud against the federal Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits program that resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers.

The four main defendants are accused of directing hundreds of applicants, including many retirees of the New York City Police Department and the Fire Department of the City of New York to lie about their psychiatric conditions in order to obtain benefits to which they were not entitled. The remaining 102 defendants were all SSDI recipients.

“For years, federal taxpayers have unwittingly financed the lifestyles of the defendants charged today,” says district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. Many participants manufactured claims of mental illness as a result of 9/11.

Under the United States Social Security law, individuals are qualified as disabled and entitled to SSDI payments if they suffer from a disability that prevents them from assuming any job available to them in the national economy. The payment amount varies, but the average annual payment is approximately US$30,000 to US$50,000 ($32,553 to $54,255) for each recipient.

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, from approximately January 1988 to December 2013, the four principal defendants in this case operated together to direct and assist many hundreds of applicants to falsely claim disabilities in order to collect SSDI payments, in addition to their public pensions.

Defendants often claimed that they rarely left their homes, did not travel and had almost no social interactions with family and friends.

But, according to court documents, applicants were, in fact, driving, travelling by air and engaging in recreational sports. Several of the defendants also were gainfully employed.

In some particularly striking examples, one defendant piloted a helicopter, another played blackjack in Las Vegas, another rode a Jet Ski, and one defendant taught and performed mixed martial arts.

Among the indicted applicants, SSDI awards have been paid since as far back as 1988, and, in some instances, the total amount fraudulently obtained was close to US$500,000 ($542,555) per applicant. The average SSDI payment to date for charged defendants, which included retroactive lump sum payments, was approximately US$210,000 ($227,844).

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