Economic & Environmental Crimes Bureau
 
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Gregory C. Pavlides
Bureau Chief
Assistant District Attorney

The Economic & Environmental Crimes Bureau is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all types of financial crimes, as well as arsons and crimes against the environment. The bureau has devoted an increasing portion of its resources to sophisticated and substantial financial crimes being committed by organized criminal syndicates operating both locally and internationally. The work of the bureau has gained national and international recognition in the financial crime fighting community. Prosecutors have lectured both across the state and across the country, and have even met with fellow prosecutors from other countries so that they can learn from the investigative and prosecutorial techniques being employed by the bureau. They have also won numerous international awards over the past ten years, recognizing their innovation and dedication to the prosecution of complex white collar cases.

Among the types of cases investigated and prosecuted by the bureau are deed theft, mortgage fraud, identity theft, credit card fraud, check fraud, mail fishing, skimming, account take overs, cyber enabled crimes, trademark counterfeiting, money laundering, tax fraud, environmental crimes, arson, and embezzlements. The bureau has also been vigilant in the investigation and prosecution of frauds which siphon money from government programs designed to protect those in the most need of assistance. These cases include corrupt businesses which do not provide proper insurance coverage for their workers, construction businesses who are not paying the prevailing wage to its employees, and individuals who are not entitled to government benefits stealing those monies so that there is less to be provided to those truly in need. For the past several years, the Economic and Environmental Crimes Bureau has led New York State in obtaining restitution so that this money can again be used for its proper purpose. The bureau has also helped protect our immigrant community who are often victimized based upon their status in the country. These investigations and prosecutions have included the stealing of money based upon fraudulent promises to help with, immigration status, the obtaining of employment, and rental scams.

The Economic and Environmental Crimes Bureau has expanded its role in the investigation and prosecution of cases which threaten the environment of Queens County and of the world. These cases include the illegal dumping of waste, which pollutes our soil and water, the illegal taking and selling of fish and sea life, the illegal sale of elephant ivory, and the trafficking in invasive and endangered species.

The bureau has also utilized long-term, court-authorized eavesdropping, and other investigative techniques, to dismantle large scale criminal organizations that attempt to profit by the theft of the identity of the citizens of Queens County. Among these cases were Operation Swiper and Operation Divergent. Operation Swiper was the single largest identity theft takedown in the United States and involved the indictment and arrest of 111 individuals. The defendants, members of five organized credit card and identity theft rings based in Queens County and having ties to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, were charged in ten separate indictments with stealing the personal credit information of thousands of unwitting consumers and costing these individuals, financial institutions, and retail businesses more than $13 million in losses over a sixteen month period. In 2017, the long term investigation of Operation Divergent resulted in the arrest and indictment of 30 individuals responsible for the theft of more than $3.5 million dollars. This criminal enterprise was responsible for stealing the identity of hundreds of consumers and using their credit information to manufacture fake credit cards and identification documents. These credit cards and fake IDs were then used to purchase high end goods from retail stores.

In addition, the bureau has had success in investigating and prosecuting international criminal syndicates that target this country’s banking system by inserting skimming devices and reprograming ATMs to steal the identity and money of the citizens of Queens County. This includes the 2018 investigation and prosecution of a criminal organization who were engaging in a nationwide “jackpotting” scheme. These individuals would remove the hard drive from bank ATMS, reprogram those hard drives, and then reinsert them into the machines. The reprogramed hard drives allowed the criminals to empty the ATMS of money by sending other members of the organization who would merely type in a specific code that would cause the machines to disperse all of the money stored inside.


ELDER FRAUD UNIT

The Elder Fraud Unit is a specialized unit created in 2006 in response to the explosive rise of financial exploitation of the elderly. Queens County is home to over 350,000 seniors. Since its inception, the Elder Fraud Unit has handled thousands of cases involving elderly victims. While elder abuse takes many forms, the vast majority of complaints involve financial abuse. The Unit is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all types of financial crimes committed against the elderly, including phone, internet and mail scams, power of attorney and fiduciary abuse, credit card and check fraud, deed and equity theft, deception burglary, street cons such as sweetheart scams and pigeon drop scams, theft by caregivers and family members, and more.

To combat these crimes more effectively, the Unit was created with a dedicated staff of assistant district attorneys, a paralegal and detective investigators. Social workers and forensic accountants round out this comprehensive team approach, and cases are handled ‘vertically’ from investigation through disposition. The Unit works creatively and comprehensively to ensure seniors are protected. Elder abuse complaints often pose special challenges and we are groundbreaking and innovative in our approach to prosecution. This specialized Unit was the first in New York State to protect the elderly utilizing the Hate Crime statute and first in the county to utilize closed circuit testimony of an elderly victim in a criminal trial. The Unit is successfully prosecuting organized fraudsters for stealing hundreds of thousands from elderly victims and for stealing deeds and equity from elderly homeowners. The Unit has been instrumental in returning deeds back to their rightful owners and ensuring seniors are able to stay in their homes and putting millions of dollars in restitution and crime victim compensation back in the hands of seniors. The Unit continues to build cases against those who target the elderly through consumer frauds, burglaries, grandparent scams and other elderly cons. We have successfully prosecuted thieves hiding behind power of attorney or other fiduciary or familial relationships and have helped seniors hold them accountable.

Elder abuse cases are often complex, involve multiple forms of abuse, and are addressed in a multi-disciplinary, comprehensive manner. At times, a criminal prosecution is not possible nor the best solution to the situation. The Unit collaborates with professionals and specialists from other agencies and disciplines. In this way, the best and broadest results are achieved, available resources and services are utilized, and a senior’s safety and well-being is ensured. Seasoned prosecutors in the Unit are strong advocates for the passing of legislation and for better protections for our seniors, participate in adult abuse training across the state, and work to improve police services to the elderly.

An integral part of the Unit’s work includes crime prevention and community awareness about elder abuse directed toward the under-served elderly communities in Queens County with specific emphasis on targeting the county’s multi-cultural and multi-lingual population. Informational presentations for seniors are conducted at community events, senior centers and other appropriate locations throughout the borough. The Unit conducts training to other agencies, institutions and business groups to help personnel better recognize the red flags of abuse to assist in the early detection of exploitation and abuse. Providing comprehensive and compassionate support to seniors, we are working to effectively address the devastating effects of elder abuse.


COUNTER TERRORISM UNIT

The Counter-Terrorism Unit was created shortly after September 11, 2001.With the knowledge that many pre-cursor crimes to terrorism, such as identity theft, counterfeit trademarking, money laundering, and crimes involving the forgery of or the illegal procurement of identification documents, the Unit has been under the mantle of Economic Crimes since 2006. The Counter Terrorism Unit seeks to identify and pursue investigative leads relating to terrorism and terror financing. The Unit’s duties include designing, implementing and supporting law enforcement efforts, initiatives and strategies relating to combating terrorism. The Unit works with and coordinates with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to achieve this goal. The Queens County District Attorney’s Office’s Counter Terrorism Unit was the first in New York State to prosecute under the New York State terrorism statute for a crime of Material Support of Terrorism.


 


 
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