Monday, November 17, 2014

NY Paper: Embezzlement Cost New York Taxpayers $30 Million From Government Entities From 2011 - 2014

From the Albany Times Union on 11/15/2014:

 Public  pocket getting picked

$30M lost as public servants betray trust to finance lifestyles

About once a week for five-and-a-half years, Brenda Kennedy left her Rensselaer County office with more than $800 in her lunchbox. No one else knew; not even her husband.

By the time her crime was discovered in August 2012, Kennedy had stolen $208,597 from her job as a clinical billing clerk for the county Department of Public Health. Last month, she admitted she swiped the money on a near-weekly basis starting in January 2007.

She awaits sentencing.

Kennedy's initial motivation to steal was simple.

"I was getting ready for Christmas and I didn't have enough money to give my kids the best Christmas," Kennedy told investigators. "No one was reviewing my paperwork at work."

Kennedy's case provides a snapshot of government workers who steal from the public. Prosecutors say the scenario has become all too familiar in public offices across the state.

"They dip their toe in the pool when they might get a little behind in their rent and they realize 'Holy cow, I can get away with this,"' said Nelson Sheingold, deputy comptroller and counsel for investigations with the state comptroller's office.

New York's comptroller and attorney general have formed a team of auditors and prosecutors to ferret out the embezzlement and file criminal cases against the thieves. In Kennedy's case, the comptroller's office examined the records and the Rensselaer County district attorney's office prosecuted the case.
Restitution agreements are often inked, but it can take years of criminal and civil litigation for the victims — taxpayers — to be repaid. In some cases, the money never comes back.

Kennedy lost her job, and with a felony now on her record her career is in jeopardy. It is a common thread in embezzlement cases that defendants have a hard time coming up with the restitution because their criminal records make it very hard to land well-paying jobs.

An examination of arrests and prosecutions by the comptroller and attorney general, as well as cases in county courts between 2011 and 2014, revealed the embezzlement of some $30 million of taxpayer money.

State auditors say there have been 80 arrests in the past three years, with the culprits typically taking small amounts when they start. As they get away with it, the temptation of free money becomes more enticing. Many told investigators that at first they planned on paying it back.

"We see some who were doing it for a decade or more, so they think they will never get caught," Sheingold said.

Kennedy's attorney, George LaMarche, said his client quickly realized she was getting into trouble and feared she'd be exposed.

"She feels tremendously remorseful," LaMarche said. "It's also had a terrible impact on her family and children."

Kennedy and dozens of others who have been caught said they were able to steal because they were not closely supervised. Their thefts have been brought to light by anonymous tipsters and co-workers who unearthed financial discrepancies. State auditors also uncover embezzlements during scheduled governmental audits, officials said.

In Kennedy's case, someone made an anonymous tip to her supervisor, who then called for a complete audit of her work.

In a court filing, Kennedy said she started putting cash payments she handled for her office into envelopes she discreetly dropped into her wastebasket. When she emptied the basket at the end of the day, she pocketed the cash.

Kennedy said she took $200 the first time she stole, but that the amounts steadily grew.

"It started out small, and then each time I did it again depended on how much I could cover up," Kennedy said. "No one else knew I was doing this, not even my husband. He just thought I was better with money than him."

Rensselaer County Corporation Counsel Steven Pechenik said many hours were spent uncovering the extent of Kennedy's thefts and instituting changes to prevent something similar from happening in the future.


Read the whole story here.

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