Holding Corrupt Public Officials Accountable
The Office works, in close partnership with the Federal Burau of Investigation and other federal, state, and city investigative agencies, to maintain and protect the integrity of all levels of government. The unit oversees the investigation and prosecution of corruption crimes committed by elected and appointed officials, government employees, and individuals and companies doing business with the city, state, and federal government, as well as campaign finance offenses. Prosecutors assigned to the Office’s Public Corruption Unit as well as prosecutors in the Office’s White Plains Division prioritize investigations and prosecutions involving the bribery of public officials, campaign finance violations and fundraising fraud, corruption of union officials, and fraud on the government. Below are examples of cases charged within each of those priority categories.
The Office investigates and prosecutes the payors and recipients of bribes to public officials at the federal, state, and local levels. Recent examples include the following cases:
- U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, His Wife, And Three New Jersey Businessmen Charged with Bribery Offenses: In Fall 2023, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, his wife, and three New Jersey businessmen named Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes were charged with bribery-related offenses. The charges arose out of a years-long scheme through which, the indictment alleges, Hana, Uribe, and Daibes paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to the Menendezes, in exchange for Senator Menendez using his official position and influence, including as the Chairman and/or Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for the personal benefit of these businessmen and to benefit the Government of Egypt. Trial for all five defendants is scheduled to begin in May 2024.
- Current and Former Metropolitan Correctional Center Employees And Inmates Indicted for Bribery, Contraband Smuggling, Narcotics Distribution, And Obstruction of Justice Offenses: In 2021, three former employees of the Bureau of Prisons at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (“MCC”) in Manhattan and eight former MCC inmates were charged with participating in an extensive bribery and contraband smuggling scheme. The MCC employees smuggled contraband including drugs, cellphones, alcohol, and cigarettes and received bribes in exchange. The inmates then allegedly sold the contraband to other MCC inmates. All three MCC employees and six of the charged inmates have entered guilty pleas in connection with this case. The two remaining inmate defendants are scheduled to begin trial in November 2023.
- Former Rikers Correction Officer Sentenced to More than Two Years In Prison For Taking Bribes To Smuggle Contraband To Inmates: In 2021, Rashawn Assanah, a former Correction Officer, was charged with bribery offenses for taking bribes from inmates to smuggle contraband into a Rikers Island jail facility. In exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes, the officer smuggled a weapon, controlled substances, and cigarettes into the jail. The officer pled guilty and was sentenced to more than two years in prison.
The Office also investigates and prosecutes individuals who violate federal campaign finance laws or engage in fraud through fundraising. Recent examples include the following cases:
- Lev Parnas Sentenced To 20 Months In Prison For Campaign Finance, Wire Fraud, And False Statement Offenses: In June 2022, Lev Parnas was sentenced to twenty months in prison for conspiring to make political contributions by a foreign national along with solicitation and aiding and abetting the same, conspiring to make straw donations, participating in a wire fraud conspiracy, and making false statements and falsifying records. Parnas was previously found guilty at trial in October 2021 on campaign finance and false statement offenses, and pled guilty to participating in a wire fraud conspiracy in March 2022. Before the U.S. election in November 2018 Parnas, Igor Fruman, Andrey Kukushkin, and a Russian oligarch named Andrey Muraviev agreed to coordinate hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal political contributions funded by Muraviev. The goal of the scheme, which involved hiding Muraviev as the source of the funds used for the donations, was to curry favor with candidates who might assist the co-conspirators in obtaining cannabis and marijuana licenses. Also in 2018, Parnas and Fruman made hundreds of thousands of dollars in straw donations to an independent expenditure committee. Parnas separately conspired with David Correia between 2012 and 2019 to defraud multiple victims by convincing them to invest in their company through false and misleading representations. Parnas, Fruman, Kukishkin, and Correia were all convicted either at trial or by guilty plea and sentenced to prison terms. Muraviev remains at large.
- PAC Fundraiser And PAC Treasurer Charged With Multi-Year Schemes To Defraud Donors: In 2023, Richard Zeitlin and Robert Piaro were charged with defrauding donors to political action committees (“PACs”) through misrepresentations regarding how the PACs would use the donations. The charges allege that Zeitlin, who owns various telemarketing call centers and associated businesses that raised millions of dollars for PACs, engaged in a scheme to defraud donors by providing false information about how the donors’ money would be spent and misleadingly suggesting that donors were giving to charities instead of PACs. Similarly, the charges allege that Piaro, who was the Treasurer of multiple PACs that raised millions of dollars in donations, made and authorized fraudulent claims about how his PACs had spent and would spend donor contributions. Zeitlin is scheduled to begin trial in April 2024. A trial date has not yet been set for Piaro.
- Two Sentenced To Prison For ‘We Build the Wall’ Online Fundraising Fraud Scheme : In July 2023, Timothy Shea was sentenced to 63 months in prison for his role in carrying out a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign known as “We Build the Wall.” Two additional defendants were previously charged, convicted and sentenced to prison terms. The defendants repeatedly and falsely assured their victims that donations would be used to build a wall along the southern border of the United States, when in fact the defendants and others stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds, which they used for personal expenses.
The Office investigates and prosecutes officers and members of labor unions who engage in bribery or embezzle union funds. Recent examples include the following cases:
- Former President And Former Financial Advisor Of Law Enforcement Union Convicted Of Defrauding Union’s Annuity Fund: In May 2023, Kenneth Wynder, who served as president of the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association (“LEEBA”), and Andrew Brown, who served as a financial advisor for LEEBA, were convicted at trial on charges that they embezzled and misappropriated money from union members’ retirement accounts. As part of the scheme, Wynder and Brown made hundreds of thousands of dollars of fraudulent transfers from the retirement accounts for improper purposes, including for Wynder’s personal expenses and to pay one of Brown’s other clients. Wynder also agreed with LEEBA’s Treasurer, Steven Whittick, to conceal Wynder’s income from the IRS and evade taxes. Whittick pled guilty and was sentenced to more than two years in prison. Wynder and Brown are awaiting sentencing following their conviction at trial.
- Leader Of Brooklyn Chapter Of The United Brotherhood Of Carpenters Convicted In Union Bribery Scheme: In September 2021, Salvatore Tagliaferro, who served as President of the Local 926 chapter of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, was sentenced to five years in prison following his conviction at trial for soliciting cash bribes from hundreds of prospective members in exchange for union membership. As a result of the scheme, Tagliaferro received tens of thousands of dollars in bribe payments.
The Office investigates and prosecutes recipients of government funds who engage in fraud or self-dealing. Recent examples include the following cases:
- Seventeen New York City And State Employees Charged With Fraudulently Obtaining Pandemic Relief Loans: In November 2022, 19 defendants, 17 of whom were government employees, were charged with submitting fraudulent applications for loans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The defendants included seven employees of the New York City Police Department, three employees of the New York City Department of Education, two employees of the New York City Department of Correction, an employee of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, an employee of the New York City Department of Transportation, an employee of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, and an employee of the New York City Human Resources Administration. The charges allege that the defendants submitted fraudulent applications for funds under the U.S. SBA Paycheck Protection Program and/or Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, all of which contained false statements about the small businesses they claimed to operate, and which resulted in the theft of more than $1.5 million. Several of the defendants have entered guilty pleas. Trial dates have not yet been set for the remaining defendants.
- Five Defendants Arrested For Stealing Millions From Government-Funded Childcare Programs for Low Income Families: In 2023, Martin Handler, Menachem Lieberman, Harold Schwartz, Isidore Handler, Ben Werczberger, and Arie Rangott were charged for their respective roles in overlapping schemes to steal from and defraud daycares receiving funding from the New York City Administration for Children’s Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). Several of the defendants were also charged with obstructing related HHS investigations. Isidore Handler entered a guilty plea and is awaiting sentencing. The remaining defendants are currently scheduled to proceed to trial in January 2024.