TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Two NYC Workers Accused of Stealing 9-11 Funds

Two NYC Workers Accused of Stealing 9-11 Funds

Associated Press News Wire (
Fri, 9 Dec 2005 16:31:21 -0600

Two former employees in the city medical examiner's office were
charged with embezzling millions of dollars intended to help identify
victims of the World Trade Center attack.

Natarajan R. Venkataram, 41, and Rosa Abreu, 38, were arrested

"These defendants breached their positions of trust and responsibility
and took advantage of a national tragedy," said Rose Gill Hearn, city
commissioner of investigation.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency
forwarded millions of dollars to help the medical examiner buy
computer hardware, software and support services to identify the dead.

Prosecutors said Friday that the defendants, both administrators in
the medical examiner's office, steered an $11.4 million contract to a
company controlled by an associate of Venkataram's. The company did
some work, but most of the money went to companies that did little or
nothing and were sometimes controlled by the defendants, prosecutors

About $5.5 million was allegedly transferred at Venkataram's direction to
bank accounts in India.

A lawyer for Venkataram declined to comment. Abreu's attorney did not
immediately return a call.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I do not know if this is a new record
for thievery where municipal employees are concerned or not. I do know
that in 1996-97 several employees of the Chicago Transit Authority
absconded with several million dollars -- a couple hundred dollars at
a time -- from CTA on an almost daily basis. Although you might think
the biggest heists each day would be at the money counting room, 77th
and Vincennes bus barn where several routes terminated each day -- and
workers there were commonly walking away with a fist full of dollar
bills routinely -- and not to take them to the bank! -- the subway
fare collecting agents had a good racket going also: Sitting in their
cage, they'd collect fares from passers by but then fail to register
the fare. They were supposed to (older style) pull an overhead strap
which caused a bell to ring, flashed a light and unlocked the turnstile.
The newer sytem had them punch a button on a keyboard which in turn
rang the bell, turned a red light (stop!) to green to allow passengers
to walk through the temporarily opened gate, etc. Then each day at the
end of their shift they would 'read the meter' in the presence of the
employee who was relieving them, take all the money away to be audited
elsewhere (probably 77th and Vincennes). That was supposed to be the
CTA audit trail on fares collected. Trouble is, the employees learned
they could (instead of ringing the 'fare paid' button they could
instead ring the 'monthly pass presented' key, or the 'employee pass'
key or a couple others which would unlock the turnstile and flash a
light but _not_ show up on the fare collected register. That money was
of course, their take. The night shift agents at State Street and
Jackson/Van Buren downtown between them pulled about a million dollars
over two years before they got caught.

For about a year in the time period 1988-90 I was employed as a
'rider' -- in CTA parlance, a 'rider' is an 'ignorant' old man or
an old 'shopping bag' woman, also allegedly too old and mentally
feeble to know what was happening. Objective: _always_ pay with cash,
_always_ rush through the gates, _never_ pay attention to anything,
(or so the collection agents were to think) but really, out of the
corner of your beady eyes notice if the _right_ lights flashed on the
gates, the register incremented your trip, etc. Other 'riders' were
to deliberatly find a reason to pick a fight with the collection agent
or bus driver, or train conductor, etc and see how they responded. It
helped a lot if the 'rider' was unshaven, had body odor, and, just in
general, acted ignorant. The CTA employees were not to think that a
'rider' was anyone of any consequence, obviously.

Jackson/Van Buren subway _did_ have a lot of strange people boarding
the train there anyway, so I did not look out of place, and I did
work downtown on the late shift for that department store (where I
took care of their PBX/centrex) so several nights per week I was an
ideal person (in CTA's view) to 'ride' through that station. You were
_never_ to reveal anything about yourself to the fare collector, etc,
just toss your money in at her and shove your way along. If you had
anything to talk or snitch about, you were to do that by calling a
certain private, non-published direct phone line in someone's office
at CTA, the same as Walmart does it now with their 'mystery shoppers'.

But I had this one situation; the fare collector acted _so ignorant_;
was _so brazen_ in her thievery (she hit me three times in one week
for my fare during the late night hours); I just could not resist
telling her off good. A middle-age black lady; she impresed me that
she was into drugs as a spare time thing. Monday and Tuesday she
grabbed at my money as I stuck it in the cage at her and did 'monthly
pass' to open the gate. I said nothing, just catalogued it away, and
continued on my trip home. I did not go to work Wednesday, but went in
Thursday night, and I do not remember why, exactly, but she did or
said something to another passenger which really annoyed me, so when
she hit me on my fare again (used the employee free ride) to open the
gates that night, I decided to call her on it. I had seen her do the
same thing for two riders ahead of me in line that night, so I decided
to have fun with her. She rang 'employee free' on my fare, the light
turned green, instead of walking through I just stood there and said
to her 'why did you ring me like that? do it correctly'. All real
nasty and authoritarian she ordered me 'keep moving, do not hold up
the line'. I told her when you _ring my fare correctly_ I will move
along, not before. She came up with a lame excuse about how she had
'earlier double rang a fare and wanted to make up for the resulting
shortage.' I told her 'you have a pad of Form (whatever) in there to
be used in that case. On the Form, you write down the money amount
(usually 90 cents for one fare), you initial it and ask the passenger
to also scribble his initials there, _then_ you open the gate with
the mis-ring key and you turn in that scrap of paper with your work
for the night, that is how you do it.'

Now she was furious! "You hurry up and get through the gate or I will
call the police and have you arrested!" I told her "you just do that
... go ahead and call police, do you want to use the phone there in
the cage or would you prefer I call them from the payphone over there
on the wall? But if _I_ call, then I will also call the fare collector
supervisor over at State/Lake Street and tell her about it also." Now
she knew I had to know _something_ about the 'system' and she thought
about that for a minute and decided it would probably be best to not
get police or her supervisors involved. She ripped off one of the
'fare adjustment' forms from the pad of same, filled in the amount of
the fare shoved it out the window at me and said 'put your name on
here', with a very angry look on her face (at being caught). I just
was _not_ going to let that one go through, so the next morning I
called the private, unlisted phone number at the Merchandise Mart
(CTA headquarters) and told the man all about it. I told the gentleman
about it, he said that he had heard 'other hearsay reports about that
same lady' so he figured it was about time to hit her with a bunch
of 'riders'; several 'riders' each night for a week or two, so I can
'catch her in the act and she won't be able to deny it.' I guess the
collection fare person had never had so many old bag-ladies and
smelly, unshaven old men come past her booth in one night before.

About a month later, I got a call from someone at CTA who identified
himself as 'the agent supervisor'. It was a very short phone call and
got right to the point: "you remember about a month ago when you
called here and made a complaint about Agent (number)?" I said I did,
and his reply was "you were right. I fired her yesterday, she went to
the Union to file grievance. The Union told her, 'we would help you,
but CTA has been on our case lately for defending so many people who
have been alleged to steal from them.' So, I think the Bitch is out
of here, and chances are the Authority will have an indictment for her
sometime real soon." NOTE: The CTA is itself a quasi government in
the Chicago area. Not a government _agency_ but a _government_, with
the power to fine, indict, prosecute, etc. Her, and 'her kind' took
CTA for several million dollars as best as anyone was ever able to
figure out. PAT]

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