3 Trinis charged in roti scam
l New york
Three Trinidadians—two executives of a Queens, New York, USA, non-profit organisation; and a roti shop owner—were yesterday arrested and charged with robbing the city by grossly inflating the number of lunches served to seniors.
The persons: Chan Jamoona, 66, founder of the United Hindu Cultural Centre of USA North American Inc (UHCC), and her daughter, Veda Jamoona, 26, the executive director of the organisation, were charged along with Steven Rajkumar, 57, owner of Sonny's Roti Shop, following a probe by New York's Department of Investigation, officials said.
They were charged with grand larceny and conspiracy for stealing US$50,000 from the city's Department for the Aging by repeatedly billing the agency for phony meals, officials said.
A release from the office of the Attorney General Eric T Schneiderman yesterday announced the arrest of the three, who are accused of stealing more than US$50,000 from a lunch programme for senior citizens run by UHCC.
The 14 counts included in a felony indictment accuse the two former UHCC executive directors of stealing over US$50,000 from programmes for New York seniors by receiving kickbacks from the owner of the roti shop, a release said.
The three are charged with conspiracy in the fourth degree and grand larceny in the second degree. Chan Jamoona faces an additional eight counts of falsifying business records in the first degree and four counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. Veda Jamoona faces an additional count of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. Rajkumar faces an additional three counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.
If convicted, the maximum sentence for grand larceny in the second degree, the top count, is five to 15 years' imprisonment.
They were arraigned on Monday in New York State Supreme Court in Queens County, as investigators executed a search warrant at UHCC for documents and computers that are evidence of the scheme.
"By stealing from the senior centre lunch programme, the defendants put personal greed ahead of the basic needs of New York seniors," Attorney General Schneiderman said in the release.
"When it comes to services vital for our seniors, we cannot accept fraud as a cost of doing business. My office will prosecute fraud in critical New York programmes to the fullest extent of the law," he added.
According to Department of Investigation commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, "Through fake invoices and phantom clients, these defendants systematically chiselled the city's taxpayers and shortchanged the seniors they were supposed to serve, according to the indictment. Their charged phony billing scheme was undone by meticulous fiscal analysis and old-fashioned surveillance. The Department of Investigation was pleased to work with the New York State Attorney General's Office to hold these fraudsters accountable."
The indictment, unsealed on Monday, accused the three of perpetrating a long-running scheme in which the senior centre operator inflated bills submitted to New York City's Department for the Aging (DFTA). To carry out the scheme, the indictment alleges the defendants directed UHCC workers to falsify invoices from the senior centre's caterer, Sonny's Roti Shop in Queens, and provide fake signatures on sign-in sheets.
The indictment also outlines a kick-back arrangement in which Rajkumar received payments for the inflated invoices and then kicked a portion of those payments back to Chan Jamoona.
Between 2007 and 2010, the defendants misrepresented the number of seniors served and overbilled the DFTA-administered senior centre lunch programme by at least US$50,000.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Jihee G Suh, under the supervision of Public Integrity Deputy Bureau Chief Stacy Aronowitz, Chief William E Schaeffer and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan. The joint investigation between the Attorney General's Office and DOI began after referrals from DFTA and the New York State Office for the Aging. —Stabroek News