NYC workers charged in disability scam

Scores of retired New York City police officers, firefighters and prison guards were charged Tuesday with faking psychiatric problems to get federal disability benefits — with some falsely claiming their conditions arose after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, prosecutors said.

Four ringleaders coached the former workers on how to falsely describe symptoms of depression and other mental health problems that allowed them to get payouts as high as $500,000, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said. The ringleaders made tens of thousands in dollars in secret kickbacks, Vance said.

Among the retirees arrested were 72 city police officers, eight firefighters, five corrections officers and one Nassau County Police Department officer.

Investigators said the scam stretched back more than two decades, with the ex-officers and other workers collecting years’ worth of benefits for citing mental health problems so severe that they couldn’t work.

One of the defendants who said he couldn’t work taught martial arts. Another former police officer who claimed he couldn’t leave the house worked at a cannoli stand at a street festival. Another claimed depression so crippling that it kept him house-bound but was photographed aboard a personal watercraft.

— Associated Press

L.A. County sheriff
to retire amid probe

Embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced his retirement Tuesday amid federal investigations that have targeted abuses in his jails and discrimination against minorities in one of the communities his deputies patrol.

Baca, 71, said he would step down at the end of the month and wouldn’t seek reelection because he was concerned about the “negative perception” the upcoming campaign would create concerning the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Baca spent 48 years in the Sheriff’s Department and was the first Hispanic to hold the top post.

Last month, 18 current and former sheriff’s deputies were indicted for alleged crimes that included beating inmates and jail visitors, falsifying reports and trying to obstruct an FBI probe of the nation’s largest jail system.

— Associated Press

Thai woman tries to cross border in a suitcase: A smuggling attempt at the U.S.-Mexico border was thwarted when inspectors found a woman from Thailand inside a suitcase, authorities said Tuesday. Customs and Border Protection agents discovered Pornkamol Mongkolsermsak, 48, while inspecting a Honda SUV entering the United States on Dec. 30 in Nogales, Ariz. She was hidden under clothing in the large suitcase in the back of the vehicle driven by a 56-year-old Phoenix man, whose name hasn’t been released.

Resort founder’s grandson killed in avalanche: The grandson of the founder of the Vail Mountain resort was killed and three others were injured Tuesday in an avalanche near the Colorado ski area. Anthony Seibert, 24, was killed in the slide in the backcountry near Vail, Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said. She said Seibert is the grandson of Peter Seibert, who along with Earl Eaton is credited with finding the terrain that later became the ski resort. The death is the fifth in the Rocky Mountain region and the second in Colorado in the past two weeks.

— From news services