Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced that it had charged Sally Spinosa, a former sergeant with the NYPD, of committing 9/11 benefits fraud. The complaint alleges that Spinosa falsely claimed that she assisted with cleanup efforts at the Fresh Kills Landfill and used forged documents to prove her presence there. The case highlights one of the rare yet serious instances of fraud committed against the 911 victim compensation fund (VCF) and the success of the VCF’s efforts to combat it.
The Allegations Against Ms. Spinosa
Sally Spinosa was an NYPD officer from 1986 until 2019 and was a sergeant in the Staten Island Investigations Unit on September 11, 2001. The U.S. attorney’s complaint alleges that Ms. Spinosa participated in a screening interview with the World Trade Center Health Program in 2010, in which she falsely stated that she worked for hundreds of hours at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.
She then applied for monetary benefits from the VCF in 2014, claiming that she was at the landfill for two hours a day for 62 days between September 20, 2001, and November 20, 2001. She submitted an affidavit signed by a supervisor in the Staten Island Investigations Unit to support her claim. Upon investigation, however, the Department of Justice found that Ms. Spinosa spent little to no time at the landfill.
During the time she claimed to have been working there, records showed that she was out of the office on parental leave or was doing minimal work outside the Staten Island Investigation Unit’s offices. The investigation also revealed that the affidavit she supplied in support of her claim was fraudulent and had never been signed by her supervisor.
The 911 Victim Compensation Fund’s Efforts to Combat Fraud
The VCF has been accused of failing to prevent fraud in the past. Indeed, one of the primary objections to the VCF’s 2090 extension was the risk of fraud. However, the VCF takes its role in ensuring that only legitimate claimants receive benefits very seriously. It has a robust system of standards and procedures to detect fraud in VCF applications. All claim forms and information submitted to the VCF are subject to 18 U.S.C. § 1001, the statute that criminalizes false statements made to the federal government.
Key information used to establish eligibility and calculate loss is then independently verified with third parties. The VCF also conducts multiple internal checks throughout the review process to ensure that factual inconsistencies, data discrepancies, and other potential indicators of fraud are identified and resolved.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) also provides background checks on all benefit recipients, and the Office of the Inspector General (OIC) assists the VCF in performing investigations when needed. Combining multiple checkpoints and collaboration with other government entities ensures that fraud against the VCF is minimal.
Get Help with a 911 Victim Compensation Fund Claim
If you suffer a 9/11-related health condition, you may be eligible for benefits from the 911 victim compensation fund. For more information, please contact a 9/11 attorney at Pitta & Baione by using our online contact form or calling us at 212-658-1766.