A.G. Schneiderman Secures Guilty Plea From Virginia Resident Who Stole Over $19,000 From The State Retirement Fund

Daughter Admits She Repeatedly Cashed Mom’s Retirement Checks After She Passed Away

Schneiderman: Relatives Of Deceased State Workers Cannot Keep Retirement Benefits That Don’t Belong To Them

ALBANY - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that Laura Churchill, 61, of Richmond, Virginia, pleaded guilty in Albany County Court for stealing $19,878 in New York State retirement benefits from the State. Churchill pleaded guilty before Judge Peter Lynch to Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony. She faces a potential sentence of five years’ probationary supervision and court-ordered restitution. The case has been adjourned for sentencing on September 6th.

“Retirement System funds are intended for retirees. Relatives of retirees are required to notify the New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System after a loved one passes away rather than steal retirement fund checks,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office will continue to work with the State Comptroller’s Office to track down people who unjustly enriched themselves to the detriment of the State retirement fund and hold them accountable.”

“Those individuals who attempt to steal from the state retirement system will be held accountable for their wrongdoing,” New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. “As trustee of the state pension system, I know how important retirement benefits are for over one million New Yorkers. My office will continue to diligently work to root out any fraud in the pension system and recover stolen funds. I want to thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his team for bringing Laura Churchill to justice.”

Churchill admitted in court that from approximately October 2004 through July 2009, she stole $19,878 by negotiating and cashing checks from the New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System issued by the New York State Comptroller’s Office to her then-deceased mother, Eleanor Grassel.

The Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation after an investigation by the Comptroller’s Office revealed possible theft of retirement funds after the death of Churchill’s mother, Eleanor Grassel. Grassel resided in Virginia after her retirement from employment with New York State in 1986. Grassel died in October 2004, at which time her retirement benefits were supposed to cease. However, the State was never notified of her death. Retirement checks, therefore, continued to be sent to Grassel’s Virginia residence, where Churchill also lived. The State did not learn of Grassel’s death until 2009, when a random search of obituaries alerted the Comptroller’s Office of her 2004 death. The Comptroller’s Office attempted to get Churchill to pay the money back, but after that attempt was not successful, they referred the matter to the Attorney General for investigation.

The Attorney General’s investigation established that Churchill had forged her deceased mother’s name on the retirement fund checks and cashed them through her boyfriend’s bank account. These checks totaled $19,878. Churchill admitted that she signed her mother’s name on checks, and used the money to pay outstanding bills. Churchill added: “I acknowledge I did wrong. I will voluntarily make whatever restitution I can.”

Prosecuting the case are Assistant Attorney General Darren Miller, under the supervision of Criminal Prosecutions Deputy Bureau Chief Steve Maher, Chief Gail Heatherly, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan. The prosecutors were assisted by Investigations Bureau OAG Investigators Dennis Churns and Roy Remington, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Antoine Karam and Chief Dominick Zarrella of the OAG’s Investigations Bureau.