My View: New York state's attorney general aims to fight fraud, corruption

Op-Ed Published in Today's paper

 

By Eric Schneiderman

Over the past several years, New Yorkers have seen public official after public official charged with fraud and corruption. Many of these instances have been followed by their resignation from office. The public deserves more from its public servants.

As attorney general, I am deeply committed to rooting out public corruption and restoring the public's faith in government. I strongly believe that those of us who believe in government as a force for good in people's lives must be the harshest critics of waste, fraud and abuse in the public sector. I also believe that we must do everything in our power to hold wrongdoers accountable.

That's why in the seven months since I've taken office, we've implemented an unprecedented, comprehensive approach to rooting out waste, fraud and corruption wherever it exists. And that approach is already yielding real results for the taxpayers of this state.

My first major initiative as attorney general was to form a Taxpayer Protection Bureau, specifically focused on rooting out fraud against the government, and returning stolen funds to the taxpayers.

Modeled on our award-winning Medicaid Fraud Control Unit — which we've bolstered with more prosecutors and investigators at no cost to taxpayers — the Bureau targets corrupt contractors, pension con artists, and large-scale tax cheats who rip off the New York state government. It makes use of our state's False Claims Act, which is the strongest in the nation, to seek triple damages plus penalties for these crimes.

We also announced an initiative to expand our office's authority to bring criminal charges in cases of public corruption involving taxpayer funds. The state comptroller, who has wide-ranging authority to audit the finances of the state as well as local governments and public authorities, has agreed to refer any "indictable offenses" that his staff uncovers in the course of financial reviews to our office for prosecution. This could include abuse of member items, pension padding, or corruption in government contracts.

By making creative use of existing law, this partnership allows both of our offices to do more with less, and ensures that the threat of state prosecution hangs squarely over anyone who would consider stealing from state or local governments.

And because public corruption is not limited to Albany, I recently fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint public integrity officers in every regional office around the state. Billions of dollars in taxpayer funds pass through local governments and public authorities with widely varying degrees of oversight and ethics rules.

Our regional public integrity officers represent the "boots on the ground" in communities — from Poughkeepsie to Buffalo. They are smart, tough-minded, impartial lawyers who will give whistle-blowers in every region of the state a place to go with information about local public corruption where they can be assured that local politics will not influence the outcome of any investigation. Many calls are already coming into our regional offices, and we're committed to pursuing these cases.

In this period of fiscal crisis — when we need every dollar to spend on critical services such as education, health care, and helping our fellow New Yorkers get back to work — we simply can't afford to lose a single penny of taxpayer money to waste, fraud and corruption. That's why delivering on this unprecedented, comprehensive approach to public integrity will continue to be one of the top priorities of my administration.

Eric T. Schneiderman is New York state's attorney general.

 

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