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Prosecutors recommend corruption reforms

Procedural changes, as well as amendments to state laws governing the prosecution of corruption, fraud, cybercrime, identity theft and money laundering, are among sweeping recommendations of New York prosecutors.

Members of the New York State District Attorneys Association’s White Collar Crime Task Force announced their recommendations Tuesday in a 102-page report, marking the first time since 1986 that substantial changes to white-collar crimes are being proposed.

The full report, www.manhattanda.org, recommends streamlining fraud and trademark counterfeiting laws, including enhancements that the punishment matches the crime; strengthening anti-corruption laws in the public and private sector; implementing several changes to bring laws governing cybercrime and identity theft up to date; updating laws to protect the elderly from exploitation; and reforming the grand jury procedure.

“The last time our state Legislature took a purposeful look at white collar laws was more than a quarter century ago, before smartphones, the internet, social media, or the explosion of e-commerce,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who convened the task force in October when he was still DAASNY president.

“In addition, fraud and public corruption schemes have grown more intricate and sophisticated,” Vance said. “State laws have simply not kept pace with technological and other advancements, greatly impeding the ability of local prosecutors to combat these crimes.”

Some specifics include:

• Punishing serious fraud schemes more seriously through graduated sentencing, bringing the sentence in line with the amount of money wrongfully obtained or the number of victims.;

• Expanding the crime of larceny to cover theft of personal identifying information, computer data, computer programs, and services, to adapt to modern technological realities;

• Enacting a new crime of undisclosed self-dealing by public servants to address corruption by public servants;

• Upgrading the existing crime of official misconduct, currently only a misdemeanor, to create two new crimes of official misconduct in the first and second degrees as class D and E felonies, respectively, to calibrate the penalties with the financial benefit or harm associated with the conduct;

• Amending the Criminal Procedure Law to allow for the conditional examination of victims who are at least 75 years of age; and

• Allowing prosecutors to obtain medical records of mentally impaired victims of financial exploitation, without requiring a waiver from those very victims.

“Lifespan’s Elder Abuse Prevention Program has been providing direct social work and advocacy intervention services to older adult victims in 10 upstate New York counties for over 15 years,” said  Ann Marie Cook, president/CEO of Lifespan of Greater Rochester and co-chair of the New York State Coalition on Elder Abuse Advisory Board. “We welcome this comprehensive package of proposed amendments, including important changes to the larceny statute. Those who prey on vulnerable older adults need to be held accountable for their actions — it is the only way to stop the abuse and exploitation.”

The task force was comprised of elected district attorneys and assistant district attorneys, members of the defense bar and academia, and other government officials, including one federal prosecutor. The co-chairs were Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III and Manhattan Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel R. Alonso.

“The task force sought to remedy shortcomings in the law in the areas of fraud and corruption, issues that matter to New Yorkers from all corners of our state,” said Sedita. “I look forward to joining my colleagues in presenting these recommendations to the Legislature and the governor and I thank the task force for its hard work and dedication.”

The members agreed on three key principles when making recommendations: Each idea would be considered on its own merits, not based on its political viability; consensus would be required for any recommendation; and the task force would not duplicate the efforts of the New York State Permanent Commission on Sentencing, which is already examining New York’s indeterminate sentencing scheme for non-violent crimes.

The task force as a whole met 10 times between October 2012 and July 2013, and its six subcommittees met numerous additional times on an as-needed basis. The task force also solicited input from governmental bodies and bar associations, and experts in various fields.

Other task force members include Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley; Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick; and Daniel J. French, of counsel, Bond, Schoeneck & King, Syracuse.