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Social Security Disability Fraud, Facebook Privacy and the Manhattan DA… Oh My!

Posted in Disability Pensions, Firm News & Events, Social Security Disability

Yesterday’s US Supreme Court decision in Riley v. California, interpreting the Fourth Amendment in the “digital age”, could impact the current Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into allegedly fraudulent Social Security disability claims.   But let’s step back a minute and see where the DA’s investigation and the Social Security Administration’s  responses currently stand.

See my prior blog post here on this Social Security disability fraud case regarding the initial arrest of an unscrupulous lawyer (Mr. Raymond Lavalle, Esq.) and his associates (Thomas Hale, in particular) who allegedly ran a decades long Social Security disability scam.  If the allegations are proven (and I have every reason, based upon my independent knowledge, to believe that significant fraud was involved), all participants who intentionally participated in the fraud deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

However, some interesting legal issues regarding these cases have recently come to the surface.  First, Social Security has recently begun terminating disability benefits and Medicare health insurance for all claimants who were represented by Mr. Lavalle.  See SSA NY Disability Fraud Termination Documents here.  Social Security is also demanding repayment of  past disability payments, some of which run over one half million dollars.

While a certain amount of these former clients of  Mr. Lavalle may in fact have participated in Social Security fraud, there also appears that there are many with legitimate disabilities who simply chose the wrong lawyer to represent them.   Mr. Lavalle had strong hooks in police circles and he was known as the “go to” guy for Social Security disability matters. It would not be unusual for some legitimately disabled police officers to be represented by his law firm for Social Security disability claims.

Second, yesterday the  NY Times published an important article on the bitter legal fight Facebook is now having in NY State Supreme Court against the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office over the information in the Facebook accounts of these Social Security disability claimants. See NY Times Facebook v. Manhattan DA Disability Fraud Case article here.  See Facebook’s Official Statement here.

Facebook argues (I believe correctly) that the DA violated the constitutional right of its users to be free from unreasonable searches by demanding nearly complete Facebook data, including photos and private messages, on the claimants allegedly involved in these Social Security disability claims.   In confidential legal documents unsealed this week, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Melissa Jackson sided with the DA’s office and allowed the broad subpoenas  without notification to the individual Facebook users.   It also appears that the information gleaned on  these Facebook pages could have then led to wiretaps on the cell phones of the Facebook users.

The case is now on appeal.  Facebook is represented by Orin Snyder at the national litigation powerhouse law firm of Gibson Dunn.  In its opening brief (see Facebooks-brief-seeking-review-of-the-case-on-disability-fraud-subpoenas ), Gibson Dunn states that:

“This appeal arises from the largest set of search warrants that Facebook has ever received and presents important questions concerning the lawful limits of searches and seizures in the digital age.”

Yesterday’s US Supreme Court decision in Riley v. California also dealt squarely with the lawful limits of searches and seizures in the digital age. In that case, Justice Roberts ruling for an unanimous Supreme Court, observed that:

“…modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of the human anatomy…”

So, the relevant questions in my opinion are:

  • With an estimated 1.28 billion active users worldwide, how much less pervasive today is Facebook than the cell phones  Justice Robert’s so correctly describes?  Are Facebook users entitled to the same privacy protections as cell phone users?
  • Will the Supreme Court’s decision in Riley impact the Facebook v. Manhattan DA case?
  • Will the Facebook appeal  in NY State Supreme Court have any impact on the Social Security Administration’s current attempt to terminate benefits from hundreds of disability claimants? 
  • Are the current termination of benefits efforts by Social Security the result  of  “fruit from the poisonous tree” (evidence obtained illegally)?  If so, where does that leave the claimants involved in the alleged disability fraud?

I predict that the Facebook appeal will eventually be decided at the New York State Court of Appeals, if not the US Supreme Court.  We will keep you posted.