A former bookkeeper for the city has been indicted for allegedly stealing nearly $3 million from the estates of people who died without a will, the Manhattan district attorney's office said.
The Public Administrator's office of each county oversees the estates of people who die without a will. If no next of kin or beneficiaries step forward, the Public Administrator maintains the estate's funds and assets and eventually transfers the money over to the city's Department of Finance
Richard Paul, 34, the former Public Administrator bookkeeper in Brooklyn, was responsible for ensuring the transfer of those funds. According to court documents, Paul stole money by rerouting funds intended for DOF to unauthorized individuals over a three-year period, authorities say.
He was charged with grand larceny and defrauding the government, both felonies. Three other people -- Taryn Miller, Ransel Sangster and George Bethea -- also face charges for allegedly colluding with him and receiving stolen funds.
Court documents say that Miller, 33, allegedly helped Paul facilitate the scheme from late August 2008 through early November 2011 and received stolen funds. Miller is married to Bethea, who allegedly received $150,000 in stolen funds. Both Miller and Bethea are charged with grand larceny.
Sangster, the third-co-defendant, allegedly received two unauthorized checks from the Public Administrator's office totaling nearly $600,000 while he was working for the city's Department of Homeless Services and as city corrections officer. He too was charged with grand larceny.
Information on the defendants' attorneys wasn't immediately available.
The investigation is ongoing.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance praised his office's Public Integrity Unit for bringing the case.
"By breaching the public trust in order to line his pockets, the defendant violated his obligations to the City and to all New Yorkers,” Vance said in a statement. "Together with our investigative partners at the Department of Investigation, my Office’s Public Integrity Unit is committed to the investigation and prosecution of corruption and other crimes committed by public employees."
Vance urged members of the public to call the Public Integrity Hotline at 212-335-8987 to report suspected abuses of the public trust.
DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said the agency would recommend measures to prevent similar alleged fraud.
“This investigation exposed an audacious and calculated scheme to steal money from the dead, according to the indictments," Hearn said. "Investigators quickly found that a key insider and his accomplices methodically raided the accounts of a city office charged with safeguarding decedents’ property."
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