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Theft Cases

Below are some examples of theft cases DOI has investigated.

  • In February 2003, DOI’s investigation of Anthony Serra, a then-New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) Bureau Chief, culminated in an 89-count indictment in Bronx Supreme Court that alleged Serra had used DOC workers, who were being paid with taxpayers' dollars, to make repairs and maintain the grounds at his home in suburban Mahopac, N.Y. The workers planted trees and shrubs, mowed the lawn, repaired the driveway, remodeled a bathroom and upgraded the kitchen. The indictment also alleged that DOC personnel ran errands for Serra's family. Serra pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and to violating the New York City Conflicts of Interest rules. In 2005, he was sentenced to one year in jail and was required to pay restitution to the City of New York. Also in 2005, Serra pleaded guilty in Federal Court to tax evasion and was sentenced to eight months in prison.

  • In March 2003, a painting by Salvador Dali was stolen from Rikers Island. The sketch, donated by Dali in 1965 when he canceled a promised appearance at Rikers, was hung in a locked display case in the lobby of the men’s jail, an area off limits to inmates. In June 2003, as a result of DOI’s investigation, four DOC employees, including an Assistant Deputy Warden, were indicted on theft charges after they staged a fire drill so they could steal the Dali and replace it with a fake. Three were convicted and sentenced to either prison time or probation. Each also resigned from their jobs at DOC.

  • DOI’s investigation into the former president of the New York City Housing Development Corp. (“HDC”), Russell Harding, led to a 2003 federal indictment alleging he used HDC funds to pay for a host of personal items such as meals, restaurants, spa treatments, computers and personal trips. He was also charged with possessing child pornography. In 2005, Harding pleaded guilty, admitting he embezzled more than $400,000 of public money from the HDC to support a lavish lifestyle and was sentenced to 63 months in prison. As a result of DOI’s investigation, DOI and HDC entered into a Memorandum of Understanding that established and funded an Office of the Inspector General for monitoring HDC.

  • In 2007, DOI helped crack the case of two missing Picasso drawings from the apartment of a deceased Upper East Side art collector. The New York County Public Administrator (“PA”) was cataloguing the artwork, discovered the drawings were missing and reported the matter to DOI, which has oversight of the PA’s office. The investigation led to the arrest of a mover and his mother-in-law who had been subcontracted by the PA to cart household furnishings and other items to the PA’s warehouse in lower Manhattan. The mover was convicted of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and sentenced to five years probation. His mother-in-law was also charged and her case is pending.

  • DOI aggressively pursued an investigation of Judith Leekin who illegally adopted disabled children in New York, abused them, and reaped $1.68 million in fraudulently-acquired adoption subsidy money. Leekin devastated the lives of 11 vulnerable children consigned to her care, eventually moving to Florida, where she kept them under deplorable conditions. The investigation found that by fraudulently using fictitious names and filing false adoption recertification forms, Leekin succeeded in turning ACS’s adoption program for needy, disabled children into a source of significant income to support her own affluent life-style. Leekin pleaded guilty, and in July 2008, a federal judge sentenced her to 130 months in prison after the court received and cited a letter from DOI about the depravity of her conduct.

  • After HRA notified DOI about discrepancies in 19 food stamp cases, DOI investigators set out to understand how and why these discrepancies occurred. What DOI found was a sophisticated criminal scheme that resulted in the 2010 arrest of two HRA employees, including a supervisor, and two others on charges of illegally obtaining $8 million in food stamp benefits in connection with approximately 1,500 fraudulent cases. According to the charges, the City supervisor used her computer access at HRA and addresses provided by some of the defendants to process and approve fraudulent food stamp cases and generate food stamp cards that were later sold and used illegally.
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