Nearly three dozen people have been arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into Social Security and Disability insurance fraud, among them a prominent member of Community Board 9 and his father, who is one of the principal defendants.
Saverio “Sam” Esposito, 48, a longtime member of CB 9 from Ozone Park, was among 32 people arrested in an ongoing sting headed by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance alleging millions of dollars in fraudulent claims against the federal Social Security Disability Insurance program. Esposito’s father, Joseph Esposito, 64, is one of four principal defendants, along with Raymond Lavallee, 83, Thomas Hale, 89, and John Minerva, 61, accused of directing SSDI applicants including many retirees of the NYPD, which the younger Esposito was a member of, and FDNY, to lie about their psychiatric conditions in order to obtain benefits to which they were not entitled. The operators of the scam allegedly received cash payments in return for coaching the applicants, who claimed that they suffered a psychiatric condition that prevented them from working, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression. Some of the defendants allegedly used their association with the events of Sept. 11, 2001 as the ostensible cause of their psychiatric condition. Vance said the average annual payment per applicant was between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.
“These defendants are accused of gaming the system by lying about their lifestyle, including their ability to work, drive, handle money, shop, and socialize, in order to obtain benefits to which they were not entitled,” Vance said in a statement. “Their lies were repetitive and extensive.”
Four other Queens residents — Geoffrey Davila, 47, Joseph Jannis, 47, John Joyce, 49, and Jose Medina, 50 — are named in the indictment.
The 32 suspects are in addition to more than 100 who were arrested as part of the alleged scheme in January.
Esposito, along with Davila, Jannis, Joyce and Medina, faces charges of grand larceny in the second degree and criminal facilitation in the fourth degree. His father faces one count each of grand larceny in the second degree and conspiracy in the fourth degree.
Calls to Esposito’s home phone number were not returned by press time Wednesday.
In the last year, Esposito has become a notable figure on CB 9. He faced expulsion last fall over alleged anti-Semitic emails he sent to three other board members. The debate over his expulsion carried over three meetings in September, October and November, often descending into shouting matches between Esposito and Chairman Jim Coccovillo, whom Esposito said targeted him over the latter’s support for District Manager Mary Ann Carey, who herself faced firing from the board last June. The panel voted against removing Esposito in November and the three members who received the controversial emails resigned from the board.
Carey offered no comment on the allegations. Coccovillo did not return a call for comment by press time.
Esposito’s arrest could send CB 9, which has become notorious for the often long, turbulent monthly meetings that became commonplace in 2013 over the Carey and email issues, back into chaos.
Elections for the board’s leadership positions are scheduled for March 11 and sources say Esposito has been backing a slate to oppose Coccovillo that included himself in one of the top posts and he has been actively campaigning to elect the slate among undecided board members who are unhappy with Coccovillo’s handling of the Carey and Esposito’s situation. Before his arrest, several members said they thought Esposito and his ticket had a real shot at ousting the current chairman.
“This is bad news,” said one CB 9 member. “Just when we thought things were finally settling down, something else happens to rile things up. Even if the charges against Sam are eventually dismissed, this is a huge blow to him and his supporters.”