Officers Skewer DA for Social Security Dragnet

MANHATTAN (CN) — Two New York City police sergeants and a Marine Corps veteran sued Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance in federal court, claiming the prosecutor had newspaper headlines more than justice in mind in labeling them as Social Security cheats.

In a 36-page federal complaint, the men insist that they had been bystanders to a scandal that rocked New York’s bravest roughly two years ago.

In January 2014, Vance charged more than 106 retired New York City firefighters and police officers with a scheme to fatten the Social Security benefits by faking illnesses. Vance piled another 32 indictments onto the case a month later.

The four main defendants — Raymond Lavallee, Thomas Hale, and Joseph Esposito and John Minerva — pleaded guilty along with 100 others to what prosecutors estimated had been a $400 million scheme.

On Wednesday, three of the NYPD officers who escaped conviction — Sergeants Philip Blessinger and Scott Greco and rank-and-file John Byrne — claimed that they were innocent men “victimized twice” — first by the guilty officers whom they trusted and then by Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

The men insist that prosecutors knew they were not guilty before their exoneration on Aug. 30, 2016.

“The first and foremost duty of a prosecutor is to pursue justice. Justice was not done,” their New York-based attorney, Jacob Weinstein, wrote in the complaint. “In the instant matter, the entirety of the defendants’ investigation and process of bringing criminal charges against plaintiffs was not simply erroneous, but outright wrong.”

While acknowledging Vance’s main targets had been properly indicted, the three plaintiff officers in this lawsuit claim to have been swept up “due to unwittingly and innocently associating themselves with bad apples.”

Spending the first four years of his career with the NYPD, Blessinger would later move on to the Nassau County Police Department for the better part of two decades. In 1990, he responded to the Avianca plane crash in Cove Neck, N.Y., a horrific crash that killed 73 people.

On top of the trauma of that experience, Blessenger said a stolen vehicle slammed into him the same year as he tried to arrest the driver. He says that his mental and physical health issues have sidelined him since 2006.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Greco had not been assigned to Ground Zero, but the nearly 20-year veteran of the NYPD says that he volunteered his off-duty time to hand out refreshments and help out those assisting in the recovery.

His father died shortly after the attacks, and Greco retired roughly two years later. He says that he ran his own business until his back pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression made that impossible in 2006.

Byrne, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, says that he also rushed to Ground Zero as soon as the NYPD relieved him of his other post on 9/11.

Having torn his meniscus in the line of duty in 2007, Byrne says, he has been unable to work since 2008.

Vance’s investigators encouraged Byrne’s neighbors, family and friends to convince him to take a plea bargain to avoid a trial, according to the complaint.

Each of the men says he racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and debt and had their assets frozen.

They want $30 million in compensation plus punitive damages for nine counts including constitutional violations, malicious prosecution, abuse of process and gross negligence.

The New York City Law Department’s spokesman Nick Paolucci said: “We will review the complaint and investigate all the relevant facts.”

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