Life's a real roller coaster for a retired NYPD Internal Affairs lieutenant receiving a tax-free disability pension and social security payments.
John Bruzzese, 47, who retired at the end of 2008, receives at least $44,000 a year in taxpayer money through his NYPD disability pension — along with another $43,872 in social security disability insurance, documents obtained by the Daily News show.
But photos show that the former cop’s injuries didn’t prevent him from having a blast on at least five roller coasters in March 2015.
“I cannot work. I have difficulty carrying (stuff) things, physical labor causes me great pain. I can't play sports anymore, I can't stand or sit for long periods of time, I can't bend over without great pain, I can’t carry my children. I don’t play any sports,” Bruzzese wrote in an application for social security disability insurance in 2010.
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“At times I have someone help me put on, take off and tie my shoes. I bathe myself but don’t wash lower legs with the wash cloth.”
He also reported suffering from depression, panic attacks and fear of crowds exacerbated by the 9/11 terror attacks to get the social security benefits, then denied it in his divorce trial, papers show.
But photos from a family trip to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., given to The News by a source, show Bruzzese smiling with hands in the air aboard high-adrenaline coasters like Apollo’s Chariot, the Loch Ness Monster, Griffon and Verbolten.
“Call my lawyer,” Bruzzese told The News when reached for comment by phone. “You know what? My children have gone through enough, ok?”
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Bruzzese repeated that line and said “no thank you” when approached by a News reporter days later.
His lawyers, Michael Meth and Evan Zucker, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
But one man said he’s spotted Bruzzese playing basketball with a group of “other fit, middle-aged guys” on a court the former cop built outside his home. "It didn’t look like an intense workout game, but they were definitely shooting hoops,” said Walter McGrath, who often drives past Bruzzese’s house.
The ex-cop is the latest example of an NYPD disability pension awarded to a retired cop apparently living an able-bodied life. The News has highlighted numerous cases of questionable disability pensions, prompting an ongoing inquiry by the Department of Investigation into misuse of the system.
A DOI spokeswoman said the investigation is “active and systemic,” but declined further comment.
Frustration was mounting with the apparent lack of oversight by the city Police Pension Fund, which was worth $35.3 billion in total investments in 2016.
A source familiar with the fund’s operations said its internal investigations never went beyond an examination of individual cases highlighted by The News.
“It’s a billion dollar pension fund,” the source said. "They can't be proactive? Can't they afford to go and enforce this?” the source said. “They have resources. You've got a cop with a finger injury and he gets to get paid for the rest of his life?”
The pension fund did not respond to a request for comment.
Court documents show that Orange County Supreme Court Justice Andrew Bivona, who presided over Bruzzese's divorce from Sylvia Bruzzese, found the ex-cop's claims of a disability were highly questionable.
The judge wrote that it was apparent Bruzzese was seeking to portray his wife as a liar "to deflect from his own dishonesty … and his actions in securing disability," Bivona wrote.
The judge noted Bruzzese testified in 2014 to doing heavy renovation work in his Warwick, N.Y., home, but told a state agency overseeing Social Security benefits that he couldn't bend over "without great pain."
"It is clear that Mr. Bruzzese has no credibility," the judge wrote.
Bruzzese also did home renovation work for friends, including at least two NYPD cops and one state police officer, records show.
Angelo Burgos, a retired cop and a friend of his, said Bruzzese last did work on his house in 2004. “To my knowledge, he’s not working,” he said. “He always says he has the same thing with his back.”
In his disability filing, Bruzzese claimed he hurt his back when an elevator plummeted at a Harlem building in April 2007. He sued the elevator company and got a settlement.
“He states that even the slightest tilt, such as brushing his teeth or bending forward, causes pain,” according to the 2008 ruling by the NYPD Medical Board which approved the disability.
He had surgery for the injury, but NYPD records show that he refused medical attention at the scene, and the FDNY said there were no reported injuries.
The board approved him even though they had no post-operative MRI results to determine the cause of his claimed pain, records show.
There is no mention of any psychiatric condition in the ruling.
The city Police Pension Fund says he gets $3,682.73 per month, but documents obtained by The News show he claimed he received $8,144 a month — which would put his annual payment at $97,728.
Records show that in 2010 — two years after Bruzzese retired with the NYPD disability pension — he partnered with a former Brooklyn detective and formed JDB Investigations. The firm was registered with the state at an apartment where he lived.
Documents obtained by The News also indicate Bruzzese's first application for social security disability insurance was rejected.
“We have determined that your condition is not severe enough to keep you from working," the Social Security Administration wrote in 2010.
Bruzzese, who was a cop for 17 years, obtained SSDI disability the following year when he claimed a history of depression and panic attacks that "worsened with the events of 9/11 at the World Trade Center," Administrative Law Judge Dennis Katz wrote.
But during trial over the divorce, Bruzzese denied suffering from severe depression or “piggy backing on 9/11.”
He got monthly Social Security payments — plus a sweet retroactive $96,754, records show.
A source said Bruzzese denied having mental illness to increase his chance of winning full custody of his three children.
With ADAM SCHRADERSend a Letter to the Editor