Former New York City Human Resources Administration Employee And Two Others Sentenced For Their Roles In Scheme Involving Theft Of Hundreds Of Thousands In HRA Funds
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that ELIANA BAUTA, GERALDINE PEREZ, and ERIC GONZALES have been sentenced for their involvement in a scheme to steal over $300,000 in funds from the New York City Human Resources Administration (“HRA”). BAUTA, who perpetrated the offenses in her capacity as an HRA employee, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni to two years in prison. PEREZ was previously sentenced by Judge Caproni to nine months in prison. GONZALES was previously sentenced by Judge Caproni to two years of probation.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “The defendants have now been convicted of stealing money that was intended to be used to help some of New York’s neediest residents. As this prosecution makes clear, we are committed to rooting out those who would abuse the public trust and to ensuring that funds from public programs go to their intended recipients, not the pockets of unscrupulous employees and their co-conspirators.”
According to the Complaint, the Indictment, and statements made in court proceedings:
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 the City.
Since 2015, the New York City Department of Investigation ("DOI") has been investigating two related schemes in which an HRA employee – BAUTA – defrauded HRA and the City 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 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. Both PEREZ and GONZALEZ were knowing recipients of such fraudulently issued funds and shared the proceeds with BAUTA.
In the second scheme, BAUTA 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 also 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 more than $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.
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In addition to the prison term, BAUTA, 36, of the Bronx, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, and was ordered to forfeit $256,348.46 and to pay $312,408.60 in restitution.
PEREZ, 61, of the Bronx, New York, was sentenced by Judge Caproni on June 11, 2019, to nine months in prison and three years of supervised release (including six months of home detention), and was ordered to forfeit $233,259.34 and to pay $233,259.34 in restitution.
GONZALES, 27, of the Bronx, New York, was sentenced by Judge Caproni on June 20, 2019, to two years of probation (including 150 hours per year of community service), and was ordered to forfeit $998.33 and to pay $37,767.64 in restitution.
Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of DOI and the Internal Revenue Service.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Paul Monteleoni and Catherine Ghosh are in charge of the prosecution.