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In massive NYC disability-benefits scam case, a focus on advisers' role in complex system

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FILE- In this Jan 2, 2014 file photo, New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton gestures as he speaks about his job during a news conference after his swearing-in ceremony at police headquarters in New York. With less than a full week on the job, Bratton has to contend with the arrests of 72 retired police officers for fraudulently obtaining disability benefits for mental health conditions, for which they claim resulted from their service during the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) (The Associated Press)

A sweeping New York criminal case charging more than 100 people with faking psychiatric problems to get federal disability benefits is spotlighting the complicated role consultants play in the system.

The Manhattan district attorney said this week the decades-long scam netted more than $20 million in Social Security disability payments for more than 100 people, including dozens of former police officers and some ex-firefighters.

Prosecutors say three benefits experts and an attorney who helped the applicants netted tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. Those four and some other defendants have pleaded not guilty. Others are awaiting arraignment.

Experts say benefits advisers can provide valuable help in understanding what's needed, compiling information and navigating bureaucratic complexities. But they acknowledge the boundary between explaining and gaming the system can be tricky.

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