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BY SAM SPOKONY | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JAN. 23, 2014 | The former Southbridge Towers president who stands accused of stealing more than $100,000 in federal disability benefits will make his next court appearance on Feb. 7, when prosecutors will likely begin revealing their evidence against him.
Joseph Morrone, 60, is currently charged with second degree larceny and fourth degree criminal facilitation — both felonies — and was indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney on Jan. 7. Prosecutors say he received the Social Security disability checks between October 2009 and June 2013 after fraudulently claiming to suffer from psychological illnesses.
Morrone was president of Southbridge’s board of directors in the late-1990s and early-2000s, and currently serves as president of the Southbridge Adult and Senior Citizens Activities Center. He was charged as one of 106 people who were allegedly involved in the bogus disability benefits scheme.
In a Jan. 22 phone interview, Morrone’s lawyer, Vincent Licata, said that his client has, in fact, suffered from legitimate medical conditions.
“Mr. Morrone has had documented illnesses over a 10-year period that made him qualify for Social Security disability benefits,” said Licata, although he added that he has not yet been able to review his client’s full medical records.
“But right now, he hasn’t done anything wrong, and it’s all just allegations,” the lawyer said of the charges against Morrone, which collectively could carry a sentence of more than 15 years in prison if he were convicted on both counts.
A spokesperson for the Manhattan D.A. said that Morrone’s Feb. 7 court date will not be the start of his trial, but will instead serve as a pre-trial hearing.
Licata said that he expects to see at least some of the prosecution’s evidence following that hearing, after which he will be able to begin planning his client’s defense. As of now, Licata said he has only seen the D.A.’s indictment, which does not provide detailed information about Morrone or the D.A.’s specific case against him.
Meanwhile, there is gossip about Morrone and his case brewing within the halls of Southbridge — and some of it may be politically motivated, according to a source at the complex.
Morrone is part of a faction at Southbridge that is against privatization of the middle-income complex, which is currently part of the state’s Mitchell-Lama housing program. For many years, there has been much tension between Southbridge’s pro- and anti-privatization groups, and although Morrone’s charges are unrelated to Southbridge, some residents could be using his alleged criminal activity as an opportunity to attack him as part of that ongoing debate.
“It’s seems pretty clear at this point that [Morrone’s] friends are being supportive of him, but people with political differences are venting against him,” said one longtime Southbridge resident who is familiar with the situation, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Morrone’s brother currently serves on the Southbridge board of directors, but he has not faced any backlash over the case, according to that source.