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Officer indicted on fraud charges

US says he faked injuries; detective pleads not guilty

Eli Gonzalez was once a top cop. Eli Gonzalez was once a top cop.
By David Abel and Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / March 25, 2010

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A Boston police detective who was once named a “top cop’’ for good police work was arraigned yesterday in federal court on charges he faked injuries and defrauded the city and a private insurer in a disability scam, prosecutors said.

Eliezer Gonzalez, 48, a divorced father of two and former Marine who lives in East Boston, was charged with 34 counts of mail fraud after authorities said they photographed him walking and acting normally, then showing up at medical appointments using a cane and pretending he could not walk or speak without assistance.

“The allegations against Mr. Gonzalez are an affront to the honest men and women of the Boston Police Department,’’ US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a statement. “The fraudulent disability claims he allegedly made denigrate officers and other public servants who are truly disabled in the line of duty.’’

Gonzalez, wearing jeans and an inside-out black T-shirt, walked without assistance into the courtroom and pleaded not guilty in US District Court in Boston. He was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and ordered to stay in Massachusetts.

Neither his court-appointed lawyer nor relatives commented after the arraignment.

Gonzalez went on leave after allegedly suffering a back injury in September 2007 when he fell on a cement floor while making an arrest, police records show. He later said the injuries included orthopedic issues and post-traumatic stress. He began receiving tax-free injury pay and filed for accidental disability retirement.

He fraudulently collected his pay and supplemental insurance benefits, prosecutors said. He also appeared at required medical appointments at Boston Police Headquarters, “walking slowly with the assistance of a cane and accompanied by associates who assisted him,’’ the indictment read.

But before and after the appointments, Gonzalez was videotaped and photographed walking normally, without a cane, prosecutors said.

“At his Boston Police Department medical appointments, Gonzalez fraudulently acted both physically and mentally impaired, often requiring his associates to speak to the medical staff on his behalf,’’ the indictment said. In addition to his alleged physical impairments, he professed to have psychological impairments, such as a fear of crowds and cars.

In May 2008, Gonzalez allegedly appeared at an appointment using a cane and looking debilitated. But several days later, he traveled to Vietnam.

There, he socialized with friends “and participated in various strenuous tourist activities in an unimpaired fashion and without the aid of a cane and included videotaping himself riding on the back of a moped weaving through a crowded street,’’ prosecutors said in the indictment. It was not clear how they obtained a copy of the footage.

During the arraignment, Gonzalez sat and stood several times, without apparent difficulty. He was arrested Tuesday night outside a home in Boston, prosecutors said.

After the arraignment, a man who identified himself as Tony Magnifico said Gonzalez was a good friend and served as his best man when Magnifico was married in Vietnam in 2008. He said that was why Gonzalez was visiting.

“The charges are ludicrous,’’ said Magnifico. “I don’t have any idea why charges like that would be pushed on an officer like that.’’

Moments after the court hearing, police arrested Magnifico on what they described as an unrelated warrant.

In 2005, the National Association of Police Organizations picked Gonzalez to receive the Massachusetts Top Cops award after he tracked down a missing 19-day-old infant and arrested the alleged abductor. Before joining the force, he served for six years in the Marine Corps.

Gonzalez is former president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association. In 1993, the Boston Police Department investigated how that organization collected money from the public. Gonzalez was never charged or disciplined in the matter, but the local chapter of the association disbanded in 1995, according to Globe reports.

During his 22 years on the force, Gonzalez has been disciplined by the Police Department, internal affairs reports show.

In 1996, he was suspended for five days after allegedly driving an unregistered and uninsured vehicle. In 2002, he was suspended for 60 days after being accused of leaving his district without permission and misusing his authority. He also was disciplined for improperly documenting evidence and lying to his superiors about that case.

In 2004, Gonzalez was suspended for three days for leaving his area of duty without notifying superiors. A year later, he was accused of inappropriately confronting an employee of an East Boston restaurant about a personal dispute while on duty.

In 2006, he was suspended for 90 days and required to complete a certified batterer’s program after he was accused of abusing his wife and trying to hide his behavior from investigators. The same year he was accused of misplacing his badge and duplicating it without informing his superiors.

“The Boston Police Department will continue to take an aggressive stance on any individual who takes advantage of a law intended to protect officers who are legitimately injured on the job,’’ Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said in a statement. “We are committed to maintaining effective community relations and will not tolerate violations of the public’s trust.’’

If convicted, Gonzalez faces up to 20 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine on each count of mail fraud.

A trial was scheduled to begin May 4.