On September 11, 2001 our nation faced a terrible tragedy. We were attacked from outside our borders. Unfortunately anytime there is a disaster, some will find the opportunity too great and step outside the bounds of reason and commit fraud. Such is the case for a former employee of the New York City Medical Examiner’s office who was recently sentenced to 70 months for theft. Not only was a serious crime committed, but there was an intentional disregard for any semblance of ethical behavior.
According to the US Attorney’s news release:
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) developed an acute need for computer services following the September 11th attacks, when it was assigned the task of identifying victims through the forensic analysis of body parts and other evidence collected at Ground Zero. Many of the OCME’s September 11th-related expenses were reimbursed by FEMA, which provided more than $46 million to OCME in 2002 and 2003.
ABREU was the OCME’s Director of Records and worked as a primary assistant to NATARANJA R. VENKATARAM, the OCME’s Director of Management Information Systems (“MIS”) and ABREU’s co-defendant.
Between 1999 and 2005, VENKATARAM steered more than $13 million in OCME contracts and purchase orders to three companies run by co-conspirator MUHAMMAD NASEH by advising NASEH how much to bid on OCME contracts and arranging for NASEH’s three companies to submit purportedly independent “competing” bids. In the vast majority of cases, NASEH’s companies were paid in full under the OCME contracts but did less work than reported, or no work. Instead, NASEH’s companies would transfer funds to other companies, as directed by VENKATARAM, in exchange for a fee. In other cases, NASEH wrote checks according to VENKATARAM’s directions, or provided VENKATARAM with signed but otherwise blank checks from the NASEH companies for VENKATARAM to use as he saw fit. ABREU helped VENKATARAM launder the proceeds of this scheme through shell companies that ABREU established and maintained. At VENKATARAM’s direction, millions of dollars in funds paid by OCME to NASEH’s companies were used for VENKATARAM’s and ABREU’s personal benefit.
It is reported that ABREU was VENKATARAM’s girlfriend.
The question may be asked, what happened? Fraud requires three components. For lack of a better way to put it, fraud is a bit like baking – a cake for example. A cake requires the right ingredients. If any one is missing, then you can’t accomplish the bakers task. If you leave out eggs, for example, the cake will be undesirable. Well, in fraud, the three critical components are: (1) need (or perceived need); (2) opportunity and (3) rationalization.
Now, I can’t begin to speak to the issues of need or rationalization, but the obvious is that due to the events of 9/11 “opportunity” came knocking at their door. A substantial inflow of cash – $46 million to be exact – is enough to tempt anyone. Mind you just because there is a large sum of money, previously unavailable, does not mean that everyone will respond to the potential temptation. But, I will say, after studying people and white collar crime, it is likely that any thing out of the ordinary – especially in mass quantity, will bring out the devil in many.
My guess…and let me be clear, it is only a guess…is that those involved felt that they were under pressure, under paid and could not resist the temptation for taking what they rationalized should be theirs. Now…IF YOU KNOW ANY REPORTED ON HERE…your comments are welcome – as I may be wrong.
VENKATARAM pleaded guilty on October 30, 2007 to one count of conspiracy, one count of embezzlement and misapplication of funds from OCME, and fourteen counts of money laundering. He was sentenced on July 11, 2008 to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution and forfeiture in the amount of $2,970,072.
One thing is a fact, EVERY CHOICE HAS A CONSEQUENCE! That I know as I have been where these men are going and know that my poor choices got me a prison sentence as well.
I was once told, “You made a serious mistake, but YOU are not a mistake!” I took those words to heart and after paying my debt to society, I turned my life around such that today I speak nationwide about Choices and Consequences. Perhaps these men can learn and use their talents for productive use once free.