Saturday, December 1, 2018

Former New York City Human Resources Administration Employee And Two Others Charged With Stealing Hundreds Of Thousands In Hra Funds

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Lesley Brovner, Acting Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”), and James D. Robnett, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), announced today that ELIANA BAUTA, GERALDINE PEREZ, and ERIC GONZALES were charged in Manhattan federal court with six counts related to their theft of over $300,000 in funds from the New York City Human Resources Administration (“HRA”).  BAUTA perpetrated the offenses in her capacity as an HRA employee.  PEREZ is also charged with a separate fraudulent scheme involving over $90,000 of stolen or fraudulently issued Treasury checks.  BAUTA was arrested by the U.S. Marshals in Florida, and was presented in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida this afternoon.  PEREZ and GONZALEZ will appear tomorrow for presentment in the Southern District of New York before Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein. 

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As an HRA employee, Eliana Bauta was supposed to help New Yorkers in need.  Instead, she and her co-defendants allegedly helped themselves, stealing hundreds of thousands in emergency benefits funds.  As today’s arrests make clear, we will not tolerate alleged abuses of trust in City agencies, and we remain committed to ensuring that federal and local funds go to the intended recipients, not the pockets of unscrupulous employees and their families and friends.”
IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Robnett said:  “When stolen identities are used to file fraudulent tax returns, it robs all of us.  IRS-CI will investigate these alleged crimes and protect this country’s tax administration.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court:[[1]               
HRA is an agency of the City of New York responsible for administering the majority of the City’s public assistance programs.  Among other things, HRA provides temporary, emergency cash assistance to individuals and families with social service and economic needs to assist them in reaching self-sufficiency.  The emergency assistance is funded by the federal government as well as by New York State and City. 
Since in or about 2015, DOI has been investigating two related schemes in which an HRA employee – ELIANA BAUTA – defrauded HRA and the City of New York by using her position to commit public assistance fraud.  BAUTA worked as a Job Opportunity Specialist for HRA from approximately January 2008 to on or about May 23, 2018.  As a Job Opportunity Specialist, BAUTA was at various points responsible for interviewing benefits applicants, compiling and submitting applicants’ paperwork, and disbursing applicants’ benefits. 
In the first of the two schemes, BAUTA is alleged to have caused the fraudulent issuance of emergency benefits funds to relatives and acquaintances, including GERALDINE PEREZ and ERIC GONZALES, among others, who in truth and in fact did not qualify for those funds.  For example, BAUTA altered a police report submitted by an actual HRA client by changing the name of the victim to a family member’s name, and then entered the doctored report into HRA systems in support of a request for benefits to be issued to that family member.  On another occasion, BAUTA submitted a request for emergency benefits to be issued to an individual after an alleged disaster, but no such disaster had occurred, and the payments were intended to repay that individual for putting a supernatural curse on BAUTA’s ex-boyfriend.  Both PEREZ and GONZALEZ were knowing recipients of such fraudulently issued funds and shared the proceeds with BAUTA.
In the second scheme, BAUTA is alleged to have obtained access to and misappropriated emergency benefits checks issued to actual HRA clients.  Instead of providing the checks to the legitimate clients in need of emergency funding, BAUTA gave them to PEREZ and GONZALES, among other of BAUTA’s relatives and associates, who deposited the checks in their own bank accounts and withdrew the funds, and then shared the proceeds with BAUTA.  In total, the two schemes resulted in losses to HRA of at least $309,000 in public funds.
In addition to obtaining stolen HRA checks into her bank account and the bank accounts of family members, PEREZ is also alleged to have deposited or caused to be deposited into these same accounts improperly obtained United States Treasury checks that were issued to other individuals as tax refunds.  In total, 23 such checks worth over $91,000 were deposited into bank accounts of PEREZ and her family members and associates.  PEREZ then split the proceeds with a tax preparer who assisted in the scheme.
ELIANA BAUTA, 35, GERALDINE PEREZ, 60, and ERIC GONZALES, 26, all of the Bronx, New York, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit federal program theft, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; two counts of federal program theft, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.  BAUTA is also charged with one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years in prison.  PEREZ is also charged with one count of receiving stolen government money or property, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants would be determined by the judge.
Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of DOI and the IRS, and noted that the investigation is continuing.  
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

A.G. Underwood Announces Settlements With 7 New York Hospitals To Stop Illegal Billing Of Rape Survivors For Forensic Rape Examinations

Hospitals Will Pay Restitution to Survivors Plus Costs and Revise Billing Procedures; At Least 200 Rape Kits were Illegally Billed to Rape Victims
Settlements are Part of AG’s Ongoing Statewide Investigation
  Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood announced settlements with seven New York hospitals that illegally billed rape survivors for forensic rape examinations (“FREs”).
The hospitals include Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center, Columbia University, Montefiore Nyack Hospital, New York Presbyterian/Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Richmond University Medical Center, and St. Barnabas Hospital. Under the terms of the agreements, the hospitals will implement written policies to ensure that sexual assault survivors do not receive bills for their rape examinations, provide full restitution to any improperly billed sexual assault survivors, and pay costs.
“Survivors of sexual assault have already gone through unfathomable trauma; to then subject them to illegal bills and collection calls is unconscionable,” said Attorney General Underwood. “Hospitals have a fundamental responsibility to comply with New York law. My office will continue to do everything in our power to protect survivors and their rights.”
The investigation into the hospitals follows last year’s benchmark settlement with The Brooklyn Hospital Medical Center (“Brooklyn Hospital”), which was initiated after the Attorney General’s Office received a complaint that a survivor of sexual assault was billed seven separate times for a forensic rape examination administered in Brooklyn Hospital’s emergency room. The investigation into Brooklyn Hospital prompted the Attorney General to launch a statewide investigation of billing practices for FREs at other hospitals. The investigation found pervasive failures to advise patients of their payment options, and widespread unlawful billing of sexual assault survivors.  The ongoing investigation has already revealed at least 200 unlawfully billed FREs at the seven settling hospitals; the bills ranged from approximately $46 to $3,000 each.
New York State Executive Law Section 631(13) provides that when a hospital furnishes services – including a forensic rape examination – to any sexual assault survivor, it shall provide such services to the patient without charge and shall bill the Office of Victim Services (“OVS”) directly, or alternatively, the sexual assault survivor may voluntarily opt to assign the costs to private insurance. The purpose of Executive Law 631(13) is to ease payment of FREs by providing for submission of bills to OVS; provide quality exams; and give survivors of sexual assault the ability to choose a means of payment for their FREs, either through the OVS program or their own insurance. Allowing sexual assault survivors to choose to have OVS directly pay for services helps ensure privacy and confidentiality. This increased privacy increases the likelihood that a survivor will submit to the FRE, which in turn increases the ability of law enforcement agencies to identify offenders.
New Yorkers with complaints regarding hospital billing or other health-care related issues may contact the Attorney General’s Health Care Helpline at 1-800-428-9071.
“We commend Attorney General Underwood for taking this critical step in ending the unlawful practice of billing rape survivors for their Forensic Rape Examinations,” said Sonia Ossorio, President, National Organization for Women – New York. “It is of the utmost importance that survivors are given every tool and support possible to come forward, report the crime if that is what they wish to do, and to lower any barriers to reporting.”
“When the Alliance spoke to Attorney General’s office about a survivor who had been wrongly charged for a forensic exam, we believed it was an isolated case. A lot of credit must go to the New State Attorney General for investigating this issue and unearthing numerous violations of this law,” said Mary Haviland, Esq., Executive Director, NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. “The law is clear. It directs hospitals to charge the New York State Office of Victim Services for all sexual assault forensic exams. No survivor of sexual assault should be charged for a forensic exam in a hospital Emergency Room.”
“We are grateful to the Attorney General's Office for its ongoing commitment to ensuring that survivors of sexual assault in New York State receive the full range of medical services to which they are entitled under New York State law, regardless of which emergency department they visit,” said Christopher E. Bromson, Executive Director, Crime Victims Treatment Center. “We are grateful that institutions that violate those laws are being held accountable. As the state's oldest rape crisis program, CVTC shares the office's commitment to ensuring the provision of free and comprehensive care to every sexual assault survivor who seeks it.”

Comptroller Stringer Audit Reveals Department of Education Flouted Rules in Travel Spending

Audit showed 93 percent of sampled payments violated agency policy or Comptroller’s Directives
Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on flights, hotels, and travel without proper approval, justification, or support
  New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released a new audit that found the City Department of Education (DOE) failed to comply with its own rules and City guidelines for the approval and payment of travel and conference expenses. In Fiscal Year 2017 DOE paid 42,508 travel expense vouchers, totaling over $20 million. The Comptroller’s office audited $1,060,056 worth of those payments and found that 93 percent failed to comply with DOE’s own rules, directives of the City Comptroller’s office, or both.
Among the noncompliant payments were:
  • $14,023 in overcharges that DOE paid to two vendors, including an $11,913 overpayment to a Brooklyn hotel for a meeting space;
  • $233,167 in payments to hotels and other venues for DOE meetings with no effort—as required by the rules—to find free and low-cost space in DOE buildings or other institutions, including $12,883 DOE spent on an overnight staff retreat at the Tarrytown House Estate on the Hudson in violation of DOE guidelines;
  • $269,684 for 11 purchases that required, but lacked, written bids, such as a $17,847 catering bill, and a $99,716 payment to a Brooklyn hotel for a conference on the core curriculum; and,
  • $14,956 in credit card charges with no supporting documentation, including $2,821 in charges at a resort in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Comptroller’s office also identified $60,422 in wasted public funds resulting from DOE’s prepayment of nonrefundable charges for a proposed trip to Cuba for 16 students and 6 staff members. When the Chancellor canceled the trip, DOE lost the $60,422 and then spent an additional $97,000 for a replacement trip to Brazil for most of the same group.  The audit found an inconsistency in DOE’s policies for the preapproval of international travel that allowed the wasteful spending to occur without Chancellor-level approval.
“When it comes to our schools, every single dollar counts. We can’t afford to waste dollars that should go to our kids and classrooms,” said Comptroller Stringer. “As a public school parent, my top priority is making sure that all New York City students have opportunity and the tools and resources they need to learn and excel. As Comptroller, rooting out waste and fraud is one our office’s most important responsibilities. DOE’s failure to follow its own policy and keep close track of spending shows a disregard for taxpayers and ends up costing our students most.”
DOE is expected to comply with a set of requirements for travel expenses and fund-administration established by City Comptroller’s directives, which are binding guidelines for spending. The agency’s established policy for payment of employees’ travel expenses requires all travel to be approved ahead of time. Requests are processed in DOE’s electronic Travel Reimbursement and Approval Certification (TRAC) system, which also tracks travel and conference expenditures, including those charged to its agency credit card.
However, the Comptroller’s audit revealed DOE failed to follow its policy, approving 14 payments worth $221,638 without evidence that the expenditures had been authorized by the appropriate DOE officials. The agency also failed to maintain one or more required items of supporting documentation for 43 travel expense payments, totaling $246,799.
Other instances of noncompliance found that DOE:
  • Paid $42,743 for employees to attend out-of-town conferences and training programs without the written justification required by DOE policy to show that the expenses were necessary for the employees’ professional and educational enhancement;
  • Approved payment of $12,245 for out-of-town lodging and meals, which exceeded the maximum allowable rate of $9,315 by $2,930 (a 31 percent increase) without the required justification and approvals;
  • The audit also found that DOE incorrectly reported travel expenses in its accounting system and consequently overstated its travel expenditures by more than $3 million in Fiscal Year 2017.
To address these issues, the Comptroller’s Office made the following recommendations:
  • Recoup the overcharges of $14,023 that DOE paid to vendors as identified in this audit.
  • Ensure proper justification for staff’s out-of-town travel was obtained and documented in the appropriate records relating to the travel expense before approving payment.
  • Obtain proper approval from DOE’s Division of Financial Operations (DFO) before approving or paying a lodging charge for an employee at a rate that exceeds the applicable United States General Services Administration (GSA) rate.
  • Ensure that all required approvals are obtained before travel commences and before the agency incurs expenses for lodging, meals, and conference attendance.
  • Ensure that supporting documentation for travel and related expenses is properly maintained and available for audit and other authorized purposes.
  • Consider requiring approval by the Chancellor or his or her designee for student trips that involve international or overnight travel and any trip for which a concern about security or safety is identified.
Read the audit and a full list of recommendations here.

Town Hall Meeting at Van Cortlandt Village

  Gary Axelbank host of Bronxtalk a local cable television show on Bronxnet was the moderator for the Town Hall meeting in Van Cortlandt Village in which Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Councilman Andrew Cohen, and State Senator Elect Alessandra Biaggi answered questions from members in the audience.

  While the districts may overlap in many areas they are different in size, with the State Senate district being the largest. Questions were on many different topics effecting different areas of all three elected officials districts were asked. It should be noted that Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has been in office for over twenty-four years, Councilman Andrew Cohen has been in office for five years, and State Senator Alessandra Biaggi will be sworn into office the first week of January. 

  Questions included - What is State Senator Biaggi going to do first when she takes office? Senator Biaggi answered by saying that there were fifteen new Democratic State Senators elected, Democrats now have a strong majority there, and that the current Senate Democratic Conference Leader Senator Stewart-Cousins will become the Senate Majority Leader. As for first items, fiscal compliance, election reform, early voting, ending voter suppression, and Women's Health Right's. 

  A question of what will happen to the old Van Cortland Village library building when the new library opens up was answered by Assemblyman Dinowitz, who said that the building is privately owned, and he doesn't know. To a question of supporting Daylighting Tibbetts Brook, and paving the Putnam Trail all three were in favor of the Tibbetts Brook project. On the matter of the Putnam Trail Cohen is in favor of the proposed Putnam Trail, Dinowitz having mixed feelings, and Biaggi admitting that she was not fully knowledgeable on the Putnam Trail.   

   A question on the future of the local private PreK program in the neighborhood, Councilman Cohen answered that the local public schools do not have any space for PreK programs in his council district. 

  Other questions were about a controversial housing project in Riverdale, healthcare, pot holes, future plastic bag legislation, the MTA, the future of the now empty nearby Visitation Church, the Amazon deal with the city and state by the mayor and governor, the possibility of free tuition returning to city colleges and Gary Axelbank's favorite topic the Croton Water Filtration Plant and the Jerome Park Reservoir. 

  The packed room may not have gotten all the answers they wanted, but almost everyone left with a good feeling that they received not only answers, but truths when new State Senator Alessandra Biaggi honestly answered the questions even admitting that she did not know as much as the other two elected official at the table, for the moment. After the town hall was over the elected officials stayed to talk with anyone who may not of had their question asked.

Congressman Eliot Engel - Statement on the Passing of President George H.W. Bush

  “Pat and I are deeply saddened by the passing of President George H. W. Bush. We send our condolences to the entire Bush family. President Bush’s life was one of service to the country he loved, marked by unfailing patriotism, integrity, and decency. From his service in World War II to the halls of Congress, from the thick of the intelligence community to the diplomatic ranks, and finally rising to become our 41st President, George lived a remarkable, uniquely American life.

“As Commander-in-chief, he presided over one of the most consequential periods in modern history, as the Cold War ended and the Soviet empire crumbled. In less capable, or more reckless hands, this era could have descended into chaos. But thanks in large part to George Bush’s deft and patient diplomacy, the world saw a decade in which peace and stability spread across the globe. This is a remarkable legacy.

“He was a kind man, a respected man, and a great leader. He will be sorely missed.” 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Morris Park Town Hall Meeting on Morris Park Avenue 'Road Diet'

  Al D'Angelo the President of the Morris Park Community Association opens the Town Hall meeting by the MPCA on the proposal from the New York City Department of Transportation to change Morris Park Avenue from four lanes of traffic to two lanes of traffic. This is known as a 'Road Diet'. 

  He said that the MPCA, merchants on Morris Park Avenue, and residents who live or shop on Morris Park Avenue are opposed to the Road Diet plan by the DOT. In the audience to listen was the Bronx DOT Commissioner Nivardo Lopez. Commissioner Lopez did not speak, but after the meeting did talk with people who attended the meeting. 

  It should be noted that approximately 100 people were in attendance with twenty-five speaking against, and two in favor of the road diet proposal.

Above - Bronx DOT Commissioner Nivardo Lopez took notes as he listened to the people speak as to why they were opposed or for to the proposed Road Diet for Morris Park Avenue.
Below - Councilman Mark Gjonaj speaks against the Road Diet proposal for Morris Park Avenue. Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto also spoke against the proposal by DOT.

Above - Allerton Avenue Merchants Association President Gene DeFrancis replies to a comment about the 'Allerton Avenue Road Diet'. He stated that the road diet there does not go through the merchant area, and is only in the residential part of the road.
Below - Community Activist Roxanne Delgado blasted the MPCA for what she called a staged meeting with only opponents to the road diet on the stage. She is for the road diet proposal. 
MPCA President D'Angelo answered by saying that the people on the stage are all members of the MPCa who are sponsoring the town hall meeting. 

Bronx Man Sentenced To Life In Prison For 2010 Murder

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JOSE SANTIAGO-ORTIZ was sentenced today to three consecutive life sentences for murder, participating in a narcotics conspiracy, and firearms offenses.  SANTIAGO-ORTIZ was convicted on May 15, 2018, following a one-week jury trial before U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who also imposed today’s sentence.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Over eight years ago, in service of a violent drug crew, Jose Santiago-Ortiz brutally and senselessly murdered Jerry Tide.  Now, thanks to the extraordinary work of the FBI, Santiago-Ortiz stands convicted of that murder and other crimes, and will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
According to the Complaint, the Indictment, other filings in Manhattan federal court, evidence at trial, and statements made in court proceedings:
On September 11, 2010, SANTIAGO-ORTIZ shot and killed Jerry Tide in the vicinity of Jerome Avenue and 182nd Street in the Bronx.  Between 2010 and November 2015, SANTIAGO-ORTIZ was the leader of a violent heroin trafficking enterprise (the “Flow Heroin Enterprise”) that trafficked kilogram quantities of heroin, stamped “Flow,” in the Bronx and to Rutland, Vermont.  SANTIAGO-ORTIZ killed Jerry Tide in part to increase his position within the Flow Heroin Enterprise.  Following his arrest on state charges in March 2014, SANTIAGO-ORTIZ continued to direct narcotics trafficking and acts of violence from prison.  In addition, in 2015, members of the Flow Heroin Enterprise engaged in several shootings with rival drug dealers in the Bronx.
In addition to the prison term, SANTIAGO-ORTIZ, 27, was sentenced to five years of supervised release.
Mr. Berman thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York Field Division for their work on the investigation.

Bronx Man Sentenced To More Than 12 Years In Prison For Facilitation Of Sex Trafficking, Drug Trafficking, Firearms, And Identity Theft Crimes

Kevin Pinnock Posted Advertisements Online for Women He Forced to Engage in Commercial Sex

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that KEVIN PINNOCK, a/k/a “Kev Savage,” a/k/a “Sav,” was sentenced yesterday to 12 years and three months in prison for using the internet to facilitate sex trafficking, possessing crack cocaine with intent to distribute, possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and possessing stolen identification documents.  PINNOCK previously pled guilty before United States District Judge Deborah A. Batts, who also imposed yesterday’s sentence.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Kevin Pinnock used violence and coercion to force women to engage in commercial sex for his own profit.  He will now serve a substantial prison sentence for his crimes.  The prosecution of Kevin Pinnock is part of our determined effort to deliver justice to victims of sex trafficking and other forms of commercial exploitation, and to deter others from engaging in this predatory criminal conduct.”
In sentencing PINNOCK, Judge Batts said:  “The nature of the crimes in which the defendant was convicted” were “unspeakable, violent, gratuitous crimes he arrogantly committed on young women for his financial gain,” and that his theft of others’ identities “show[s] a shocking disregard on the part of the defendant for the havoc his crimes create for innocent victims in terms of their ruined credit and long-term ramifications on their financial lives.”
According to the Complaint, Indictment, Superseding Indictment, and other documents filed in the case, as well as statements made during court proceedings:
In 2015 and 2016, PINNOCK posted online advertisements to solicit customers to engage in commercial sex with women PINNOCK forced into prostitution by violence, abuse, and coercion.  PINNOCK retained virtually all of the profits from his sex trafficking business. 
Since at least November 2016, PINNOCK sold crack cocaine and possessed a loaded firearm, which had been stolen, in order to protect his drug dealing business.  He also possessed dozens of stolen identification cards – including driver’s licenses and Social Security cards – which he sold to other individuals who were engaged in identity theft and fraud.  Many of the identification cards had been obtained through the commission of robberies.
In addition to his prison term, PINNOCK, 22, of the Bronx, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $15,000, and restitution in the amount of $100,000.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and thanked the United States Secret Service, the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, the New York City Police Department, and the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office for their assistance.

A.G. Underwood Announces 242-Count Indictment Charging 17 Individuals With Money Laundering In East Coast Untaxed Cigarette Trafficking Enterprise

 AG Alleges that Near-Daily Runs to Virginia and North Carolina Resulted in the Trafficking of Over 18 Million Untaxed Cigarettes into NYC – Evading Over $3 Million in Taxes 

  Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood announced the indictment of 17 individuals for their alleged involvement in an untaxed cigarette trafficking enterprise operating in Queens, Kings, Bronx, New York, Westchester, and Nassau Counties, as well as in New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina. The network allegedly illegally trafficked over 18 million cigarettes from low-tax states, such as North Carolina and Virginia, to various parts of New York City. It is alleged that the defendants evaded over $3 million in tax liability due to New York State and New York City.

“As we allege, the defendants ran a massive criminal enterprise that trafficked over 18 million untaxed cigarettes into New York, cheating New Yorkers out of over $3 million in taxes,” said Attorney General Underwood. “We have zero tolerance for those who try to game the system and cheat New Yorkers – and we won’t hesitate to hold them accountable.”
“Criminals do not concern themselves with city or state lines, so it is critical that the justice system comes together to achieve our shared duty: keeping the people we serve safe,” said New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill. “Along with the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau, I thank and commend the New York State Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, and all of the NYPD’s law-enforcement partners who took part in this case. Cooperatively, we are making the safest large city in the nation even safer.”  
The investigation, which was led by the New York State Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau, utilized court-authorized wiretapping, GPS tracking, covert cameras, and undercover operations. The takedown was dubbed “Operation Big Wheels” after investigators identified numerous Ford F-350 and F-150 pickup trucks that had been after-market-modified, allegedly utilized by the defendants to transport the cartons of cigarettes across state lines. Wiretaps intercepted the defendants allegedly discussing their illegal transactions in a cryptic and coded manner in hopes of avoiding detection by law enforcement, referring to Virginia as “the V” and North Carolina as “the North” to indicate which state they preferred to source their cigarettes from. 
The 242-count indictment charged all 17 individuals with Enterprise Corruption, Criminal Tax Fraud in the First Degree, and Money Laundering in the Second Degree—all of which are class B Felonies, which each carry a sentencing range of 1 to 3 to 8 1/3 to 25 years in state prison. Additionally, all defendants were charged with counts of possession or transport for the purpose of sale of 30,000 or more unstamped cigarettes, and with conspiracy. 
The ringleader, Mohammed Alsaidi, is facing 165 separate charges, including enterprise corruption, criminal tax fraud, money laundering, and related tax crimes. 
The following defendants were charged:
  • Mohammed Alsaidi, 36 years old – Queens, New York
  • Basam Hussain, 24 years old – Brooklyn, New York
  • Yaheya Ghaleb, 40 years old – Queens, New York
  • Wail Asseadi, 27 years old – Queens, New York
  • Talal Alsaedi, 24 years old – Bronx, New York
  • Yahia Mahases, 35 years old – Richmond, Virginia
  • Fattoh Ghaleb, 31 years old – Richmond, Virginia
  • Ali Fadel, 43 years old – Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Mujahid Shawter, 35 years old – Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Wail Al-Shaabi, 44 years old – Bronx, New York
  • Bakil Adlehelfri, 38 years old – Queens, New York
  • Ahmed Alsayedi, 43 years old – Baldwin, New York
  • Mohamed Elgazali, 50 years old – Bronx, New York
  • Naser Alsaidi, 41 years old – Queens, New York
  • Adnan Alsayedi, 41 years old – Queens, New York
  • Tawfiq Aziz, 43 years old – Queens, New York
  • Alaa Alsaidi, 24 years old – Yonkers, New York
16 of the defendants have been arraigned in Queens County Supreme Court; Wail Asseadi is expected to be arraigned next month. The case is being presided over by the Honorable Stephen A. Knopf.
The charges against the defendants are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
OCTF and NYPD were assisted by Homeland Security Investigations, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Henrico County Police Department, the North Carolina ALE, and Eagle Services, LLC. 

News From Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark


Defendant Killed Victim Because He was Being Too Loud 

  Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark today announced that a Bronx man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for the 2016 stabbing death of his brother during a petty argument. 

 District Attorney Clark said, “The defendant killed his brother because the victim was being loud and woke him up. Now the defendant will serve 10 years in prison for a senseless crime.” 

 District Attorney Clark said the defendant, Dennis Martinez, 53, of 2160 Seward Avenue, was sentenced today to 10 years in prison and five years post-release supervision by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Lester Adler. A jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree Manslaughter on October 25, 2018. 

 According to the investigation, on March 4, 2016, inside the Castle Hill Houses in the Bronx, the defendant was awakened by noise and began to argue with his brother in the apartment they shared. The defendant then stabbed the victim, Jorge Montanez, multiple times in the chest, back and right leg. The 36-year-old victim died of his wounds at Jacobi Medical Center. In an effort to deviate the investigation, the defendant initially told police that a group of men had attacked Montanez in the hallway, and that he tried to help his brother and was stabbed in the leg.

 District Attorney Clark thanked Bronx Homicide Detective Patrick Flatley and Officers Ricot Marcelin and John Ford of NYPD Housing Police Service Area 8 for their assistance in the case.


Defendant Knew Victim and Her Mother; Photographed Sexual Acts

  Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark today announced that a Bronx man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing a six-year-old girl left in his care. 

 District Attorney Clark said, “The defendant knew the child and her mother and took advantage of their trust. He sexually abused the innocent victim, who was only six years old, and took pictures of his atrocious actions. We hope today’s sentence brings some justice to the victim and the family, who no doubt have suffered from the crimes committed by the defendant.” 

 District Attorney Clark said the defendant, Carlos Rosario, 39, of 1642 Mace Avenue, was sentenced today by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Ralph Fabrizio to 20 years in prison and 20 years post-release supervision and will be required to register as a sex offender upon his release from incarceration. The defendant pleaded guilty to first-degree Criminal Sexual Act on September 13, 2018. 

 According to the investigation, on August 13, 2016, the defendant sexually abused the victim in his home, after her mother was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery and left the child temporarily in his care. While the child slept, the defendant engaged in various sexual acts with her. The defendant took multiple photographs of the sexual acts he performed on the child and distributed them online.

 District Attorney Clark thanked NYPD Computer Crimes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for their cooperation and assistance in the investigation.


  Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark today announced that a Bronx man has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for killing his estranged wife as he fired shots at her and her friend. 

 District Attorney Clark said, “The defendant, who was in a rage of jealousy, shot and killed the young mother of his four children in broad daylight. I hope today’s sentence brings some justice to her family.” 

 District Attorney Clark said the defendant, Amauri Perdomo, 34, of 2335 Walton Avenue, was sentenced today by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Alvin Yearwood to 50 years in prison and 10 years post-release supervision. A jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree Manslaughter, Attempted Murder in the second-degree and second-degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon on November 1, 2018. 

 According to the investigation, on October 4, 2015, at 2525 Morris Avenue, the defendant fired a Glock 9-mm pistol at his estranged wife, Jennifer Ortiz, 27, causing her death. The defendant had been stalking Ortiz through a smartphone app and found her in the vehicle of Anthony Fergus, 48. After confronting them, Perdomo hit Ortiz in the face, and when Fergus got out of the vehicle, Perdomo fired shots at him. Perdomo then returned to the vehicle and fired multiple shots that struck Ortiz in her chest, buttocks, legs, torso and heart.

 District Attorney Clark thanked her Detective Investigator Modesto Acevedo for his assistance in the investigation.

49th Precinct Council Meeting - Introduction of new Precinct Commander

  The new 49th Precinct commanding officer Captain Andrew Natiw is preparing his remarks before being introduced by 49th Precinct Community Council President Joe Thompson. Former 49th Precinct commander Captain Alps was transferred to the 52nd precinct as other Bronx precinct commanders were promoted or rotated as is the case every few years.

  Captain Natiw spoke of his twenty-two year career in the police force, his various promotions and different duties around the city. He started a in the police force as a rookie officer in the 49th precinct, and was happy to be commanding the precinct where he began in the NYPD.  

Above - New 49th Precinct commander Captain Andrew Natiw tells of his twenty-two years on the police force, which began at the 49th precinct.
Below - Captain Andrew Natiw the new Commanding officer at the 49th Precinct.


More New Yorkers with HIV receiving care and achieving viral suppression

  The de Blasio Administration announced the annual number of new HIV diagnoses in New York City has reached an all-time low, with 2,157 New Yorkers getting newly diagnosed last year. According to data from the 2017 HIV Surveillance Annual Report, newly diagnosed cases declined last year, down 5.4 percent from 2016. The number of new HIV diagnoses in New York City has decreased by 64 percent since HIV case reporting began. New York City is on track to achieve its ambitious NYC Ending the Epidemic goals by 2020.

“Our City has been on the frontlines of the HIV and AIDS epidemic for decades,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Reaching our goal to end the AIDS epidemic by 2020 in New York City is a good start, but we won’t rest until we eradicate the epidemic once and for all.”

“As we commemorate World AIDS Day, we remember those who lost their battle to AIDS and those who continue to fight it,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “As someone who is HIV positive, I'm proud to lead a Council that has made the fight against AIDS/HIV a priority, including investing $6.9 million for Ending the Epidemic in 2020.  Although we have made great progress in this fight, the battle is far from over. We will continue to fight for all New Yorkers affected by this disease.”

In addition to tracking new HIV diagnoses in the city, the Health Department estimates the number of new HIV infections. The estimated number of new HIV infections in New York City also continues to decline, with a 35 percent decrease among men who have sex with men (MSM) and a 36 percent decrease overall since 2013. New York City continues to expedite connection to care for people newly diagnosed with HIV, while estimated new infections continue to decrease at a historic, accelerated pace due to a combination of prevention strategies (including HIV treatment, pre- and post- exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEP and PEP), and NYC Condom distribution.

“We are very energized by the City’s progress in reducing HIV diagnosis and are laser-focused on reaching our goal of ending the epidemic by 2020,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio. “New Yorkers have come a long way in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and the stigma around it, and we will not rest until every New Yorker has the education and resources to prevent and treat this disease.”

“New York City is achieving the Ending the Epidemic vision supported by the investment made by the de Blasio Administration and City Council to enhance HIV-related services for treatment and prevention,” said Acting Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “Although we have seen declines in groups such as Black and Latina women, we must continue to address that men who have sex with men of color are disproportionately affected by HIV. I would like to thank the Mayor and The City Council for their unwavering dedication in making sure that HIV rates continue to decline in New York City.”

According to the report, from 2016 to 2017, the number of new HIV diagnoses among women, including cisgender and transgender women, decreased by 11.6 percent, with declines among Latina, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Black women (28 percent, 21 percent, and 8 percent declines, respectively). From 2016 to 2017, the number of new HIV diagnoses among men, including cisgender and transgender men, decreased by 3.6 percent, with those among MSM remaining stable. MSM, particularly MSM of color, continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. In 2017, of all men newly diagnosed with HIV in New York City, 74 percent were MSM; of all new diagnoses among MSM, 73 percent were among Black or Latino MSM. The Health Department’s data also show a 6.7 percent decrease in new HIV diagnoses among transgender individuals in New York City from 2016 to 2017.

More New Yorkers with HIV are receiving care and achieving viral suppression. In 2017, 80 percent of people were linked to care within 30 days of their HIV diagnosis, compared to 65 percent in 2013; and among people receiving HIV medical care in New York City in 2017, 85 percent were virally suppressed, compared to 79 percent in 2013. This progress is especially important in light of “Undetectable = Untransmittable,” or “U = U,” the evidence-based finding that individuals with HIV who are taking antiretroviral medicines and maintain an undetectable viral load for at least six months do not sexually transmit HIV.

“This historic low in new HIV diagnosis demonstrates that we are well on our way to ending the HIV epidemic in New York City,” said Deputy Commissioner for the Health Department’s Division of Disease Control Dr. Demetre Daskalakis. “We are diagnosing people with HIV earlier and linking them to care, preventing disease progression while harnessing the power of treatment to prevent transmission. The power of ‘U = U’ combined with continued promotion and use of PrEP, PEP, and condoms has set us on the trajectory to achieve our goal of ending the epidemic in New York City by 2020. Our success inspires the nation and the world as a demonstration of what community activism, science, and political will can and do achieve.”

“Our 2017 HIV surveillance data show that we are making real progress in reducing new HIV diagnoses in New York City and improving viral suppression among New Yorkers with HIV,” said Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Dr. Oni Blackstock. “But we must double down on our efforts to ensure that this progress is felt evenly and equitably across all communities – particularly those that continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. And this cannot happen unless we expand our sexual health toolkit to include not only NYC Condoms, PrEP and PEP, HIV and STI testing and treatment, and promotion of the ‘U = U’ message, but also a commitment to fighting institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the many other forms of stigma that put people at greater risk of HIV infection and, for people with HIV, put care and treatment further out of reach. We cannot end the epidemic among New Yorkers without ending the epidemic among all New Yorkers.”

These surveillance data illustrate New York City’s continued progress towards ending the epidemic of HIV. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $23 million investment to reduce the number of new infections, improve viral suppression rates and other health outcomes among people with HIV, strengthen the City’s sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention infrastructure, and dismantle HIV stigma – all using a racial justice and health equity approach. Since then, the City has transformed its eight Sexual Health Clinics, all of which currently offer low- to no-cost state-of-the-art STI and HIV services, including STI and HIV testing, emergency PEP, PrEP initiation and navigation, JumpstART (immediate initiation of HIV treatment with navigation to longer-term care), and counseling services. Anyone 12 or older can receive services at a Sexual Health Clinic, regardless of immigration status, insurance coverage, or ability to pay.

This year, the Health Department launched two sexual health marketing campaigns encouraging New Yorkers to consider PrEP as part of their sexual health plan: "Living Sure", which focuses on cisgender and transgender women, and “¡Listos!”, the agency’s first awareness campaign to be conceived of and largely released in Spanish, which focuses on Latinos. The Health Department then launched the second installment of “¡Listos!”, which promotes not only PrEP, but also HIV testing and treatment, with messaging tailored to resonate with Latino MSM. These follow the Health Department’s Be Sure, Play Sure, Stay Sure campaigns, which encourage New Yorkers to know their HIV status and STI status, choose the safer sex combination that works for them, and take medication to treat or prevent HIV.

In addition to the 2017 HIV Surveillance Annual Report, the Health Department released newslide sets and tables updated with 2017 surveillance data. In October 2018, the Health Department released Hepatitis A, B and C in New York City: 2017 Annual Report, which shows that as of January 1, 2017, 4,436 people were living with HIV and current hepatitis C infection (HCV) in New York City, the majority of whom are people of color. People with HIV/HCV coinfection are at high risk for serious liver disease, liver cancer, and premature death. In 2016, the Health Department launched Project SUCCEED (Scaling Up Coinfection Care and Eliminating Ethnic Disparities), which promotes HCV screening and linkage to care and treatment for HCV among people with HIV.