The Special Investigations Unit investigates complex cases involving misuse of public funds, white collar crime, tax fraud, real estate fraud, welfare fraud, consumer fraud and other traditional and non-traditional criminal conduct, including organized crime.
Members of the SIU also probe computer crimes and multi-jurisdictional crimes, working in cooperation with state and federal agencies to ensure that all investigative avenues are utilized to facilitate successful prosecution and justice for the citizens of Rockland County.
The goal of Special Investigations Unit prosecutors is not only to ensure that offenders are punished, but that the victims of their crimes receive some measure of restitution, whether private citizens or branches of the state government. By partnering with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Special Investigations Unit seeks to return lost or stolen revenue to Rockland County and the state via the New York Crimes Against Revenue Program (CARP).
Rockland's Special Investigations Unit has been in the forefront of the state when it comes to investigating and prosecuting high-tech criminal behavior and other complex schemes, resulting in dozens of convictions.
Special Investigations Unit Offenses
The Special Investigations Unit probes and prosecutes cases when a public official illegally abuses the power and confidence granted by the citizenry. Examples of violations of the public trust include bid rigging on public projects; illegal use of influence; criminal violations of election law; violations of public procurement regulations and law; and illegal lobbying and bribery.
White Collar Crimes
The largest thefts in U.S. history didn't involve weapons, but rather criminals who used pens or computers. White collar crime includes embezzlement, fraud, and criminal violations of New York State Labor Law, New York State Environmental Law, and New York State Insurance Law. Some corporations fraudulently report their financial records. This illegal act violates the trust people place in financial reporting and negatively impacts the value of all corporations engaged in similar businesses. This type of fraud can immediately deplete a retirement account and leave citizens penniless.
The Special Investigations Unit prosecutes cases of known or suspected violations of the law related to the fraudulent receipt of welfare funds. Investigators trace, locate, and contact suspects, witnesses, employers, other law enforcement agencies and other public and private entities to secure and verify information related to welfare fraud. Suspects and witnesses are interviewed and their testimony is analyzed to determine allegations of fraud or forgeries related to welfare benefits.
Welfare fraud most commonly consists of recipients failing to report income, failing to report that an absent parent is no longer absent, or failing to report that aided children no longer live in the aided household. Through this fraud, welfare recipients receive cash aid and/or food stamps for which they are ineligible. Whether enforcement action is criminal or civil, the primary goals of litigation are restitution to the taxpayers for the fraudulently obtained services and deterrence.
The Special Investigations Unit works with the Rockland County Office of Consumer Protection to investigate and prosecute unfair or dishonest business practices so that Rockland County consumers get a dollar's value for their dollar spent. The division's work also protects honest business owners from dishonest competitors. Examples of fraudulent business practices include false advertising, deceptive sales practices, health fraud, fraud aimed at minority communities and unfair competition.
Through lawsuits which levy heavy monetary penalties for fraudulent practices and through jail sentences, the Rockland County District Attorney strives to uphold New York State laws which protect the consumer.
Special Investigations Unit – Specialized Units
Real Estate Fraud Investigation Task Force
On November 25th, 2008, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, County Clerk Paul Piperato and County Sheriff James Kralik announced the creation of a joint effort to combat the growing problem of mortgage fraud. The Real Estate Fraud Investigation (RE-FI) Task Force combines resources of county prosecutors, record-keepers and law enforcement officers to effectively probe and seek out cases of suspected mortgage and deed fraud.
Criminals have discovered new and creative ways to forge owners' signatures on deeds, transfer ownership to themselves, and then mortgage the homes without the real owners' being aware of the scam - until foreclosure notices start arriving. A growing number of foreclosures make the slumping housing market ripe for scams that target residents seeking ways to save their homes.
Once a criminal unlawfully transfers a title, they typically work with an unsuspecting or cooperative mortgage lender to borrow against the property, all without the knowledge of the rightful owner. This often happens when the rightful owner has recently died, or been placed in a nursing home.
The objective of Rockland County's RE-FI task force is to deter, investigate, and prosecute real estate fraud cases involving recorded real estate documents. The task force emphasizes those situations where an individual's home is in danger of, or is in foreclosure. By partnering the District Attorney's office with the resources of the County Clerk and Sheriff's Department, investigating possible fraud and building cases will gain new momentum in Rockland County.
When the County Clerk receives a suspicious document, it is immediately flagged and an investigation will be launched to determine the legitimacy of the document. Once a complaint is received or the clerk's office flags a suspicious real estate transfer, the case is sent to Task Force investigators, consisting of experienced prosecutors, District Attorney Detectives, Sheriff Detectives and auditors with specialized training in financial crimes.
Since nearly everything regarding mortgage fraud can be traced back to the County Clerk's office, the combined investigative resources of the District Attorney and the County Sheriff promises to lead to an increased number of successful fraud prosecutions in the future.
Asset Forfeiture Unit
During the past decade, one of the notable trends in law enforcement across the nation has been the increased use of forfeiture of funds and property as a weapon in the arsenal against crime. In 2008, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe made asset forfeiture a top priority of his administration.
In November 2008, District Attorney Zugibe launched an effort to bring uniformity to the various county law enforcement agencies participating in the program. With the assistance of a Supervising Senior Assistant District Attorney, Mr. Zugibe set forth explicit guidelines for law enforcement, so that resources of the D.A.'s office, as well as the resources of the County's police departments, are utilized more wisely and more economically.
In these challenging economic times, nearly all of our community organizations are suffering from decreased government aid and declining private support. District Attorney Zugibe believes well-defined guidelines governing the seizure and forfeiture of funds, property and vehicles will greatly benefit local anti-crime programs and the prosecutor's office. With the assistance of Rockland County's various police agencies, the District Attorney's Office is working to "be on the same page" with regard to what can and should be seized.