Fraud on Sept. 11 Fund Comes With Hefty Price

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A New Jersey man convicted of lying about injuries sustained on Sept. 11, 2001, to defraud a victim compensation fund must pay the government $3.24 million, a federal judge ruled.
     Mario Mastellone, of East Windsor, pleaded guilty in 2008 to what prosecutors called the largest fraud claim ever against the Sept. 11 fund.
     He had recovered more than $1 million five years earlier after telling the Justice Department that the attacks caused him to sustain permanent disabilities, leaving him unable to work or to perform “household chores such as cleaning the pool, mowing the lawn, etc.”
     But prosecutors obtained video of Mastellone dancing the limbo and carrying a woman on his back during a 2002 wedding. He also worked as a painter, shoveled snow, washed his car and moved garbage cans in 2005.
     The 2006 plea deal earned Mastellone a 30-month prison sentence. The government filed civil charges last year.
     U.S. District Judge Denise Cote signed the judgment on Monday, one day after the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The $3.24 million award represents punitive damages and civil penalties.
     “The court granted the government’s request that it impose the maximum civil penalty, holding that “Mastellone’s deception – defrauding a fund meant to alleviate the suffering of 9/11 victims – is sufficiently serious to warrant the maximum penalty,” according to a statement by prosecutors.

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