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Sep 15

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Prosecutor Immunity Bars Lawsuit After Indictment For Insurance Fraud Dismissed Against Four People

A federal judge in New York City has dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed by four people whose indictments related to an alleged insurance fraud scheme were dismissed in August 2016 before they had gone to trial.

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance announcing indictment of 106 people for SSDI fraud on January 7, 2014, with photo displayed of an indicted “disabled” man who was sport fishing on a boat. (Michael Appleton - NY Times)

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance announcing indictment of 106 people for SSDI fraud on January 7, 2014, with photo displayed of an indicted “disabled” man who was sport fishing on a boat. (Michael Appleton – NY Times)

In January 2014, 106 people were indicted by a grand jury in Manhattan for Grand Larceny and Criminal Facilitation. Their indictments alleged they had engaged in an scheme to fraudulently obtain Social Security Disability insurance benefits.

Most of the people indicted were retired NYPD police officers and firefighters. They were alleged to have worked with an organization called the Lavallee Group, which sent them to selected mental-health professionals who provided documentation of psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and depression. Those reports were used to support what the indictment alleged were fraudulent claims for SSDI prepared by the Lavalle Group. When SSDI was granted, a claimant would pay the Lavallee Group a cash kick-back in increments of less than $10,000.

After their indictments all the defendants were arrested, and civil asset forfeiture proceedings were initiated for seizure of all proceeds they had received as a result of the alleged fraud scheme.

The fraud investigation had been coordinated by the New York County DA’s Office. After the indictments the DA’s Office continued to investigate the cases by sending investigators to speak to the defendant’s family members, neighbors, and friends.

In August 2016 the DA’s Office filed a Motion to Dismiss the indictments against four of the retired police officers: Philip Blessinger, John Byrne, Scott Greco, and Darlene Ilchert. The Motion to Dismiss stated the State no longer believed it could prove the four guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, based on “additional information and records . . . includ[ing] psychiatric reports, additional medical records, [and] work history reports, each of which was not available to the People at the time the Grand Jury voted the Indictment.” The next day the DA’s Office stipulated to dismissal of the civil forfeiture proceedings against the four.

On January 4, 2017 Blessinger, Byrne, Greco, and Ilchert filed a federal civil rights lawsuit under 42 USC 1983 that named as defendants the City of New York, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and five assistant DAs. The lawsuit alleged a violation of their civil rights for false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and unreasonable asset seizure.

On May 15, 2017 the defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit.

On September 1, 2017 U. S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III granted the motion to dismiss.

Judge Pauley ruled the six prosecutors couldn’t be sued in the performance of their duties in the case because, “All of this conduct is part and parcel of a district attorney’s role in prosecuting (or deciding whether to continue to prosecute) a crime on behalf of the state.”

He also ruled suing the prosecutors as individuals was “barred by the doctrine of absolute immunity. .. Absolute prosecutorial immunity reflects the need “to preserve the integrity of the judicial process and . . . enable zealous performance of prosecutorial duties . . . without the constant threat of legal reprisals.”” Judge Pauley ruled all the claims against the prosecutors are: “based on conduct that falls squarely within the scope of absolute immunity.” Judge Pauley cited a case in which a prosecutor was held to be immune after obtaining an indictment without probable cause the person committed the crime.

In dismissing the claims against the City of New York, Judge Pauley ruled the complaint failed to allege how the city violated their constitutional rights, and they also failed to comply with the notice of claim requirements.

Click here to read Judge Pauley’s ruling in Philip Blessinger, et al. v. City of NY, et al., 17cv47, 17cv108 (USDC SDNY, 9-1-17).

There were valid cases of SSDI fraud against some of the people indicted. The photo that was displayed during the announcement of the indictments in January 2014 shows an indicted “disabled” man who was sport fishing on a boat.

September 15, 2017
By Hans Sherrer
Justice Denied

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