NYC Employee Jailed For Stealing $10M From Fund To Identify 9/11 Remains

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9-11-ground-zeroTen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, ex-city worker Natarajan Venkataram says he’s sorry he stole millions of dollars meant for identifying the remains of trade center victims.

He’s just not sorry enough to turn over $400,000 sitting in his bank account in India.

The city has recovered $7 million of the $10 million he and an accomplice stole, but he went to court to hold onto this final portion of his ill-gotten gains.

In a phone interview from the federal prison camp at Fort Dix, N.J., Venkataram, 46, whined about jail conditions and apologized repeatedly for his crime.

Asked about the disputed cash, Venkataram said: “All the issues are still pending in the court.”

The city medical examiner’s office got millions of dollars from the feds to help identify the remains of nearly 3,000 victims.

Venkataram, then a manager dealing with the medical examiner’s computer system, and his girlfriend, Rosa Abreu, siphoned off millions via shell companies and fake contract bids.

When Venkataram learned probers were on to him, he transferred $1 million to his Indian bank accounts, prosecutors say.

Arrested in 2005, Venkataram pleaded guilty to embezzlement and money laundering. He got 15 years in jail; Abreu got six.

Venkataram also was ordered to pay $2.9 million in restitution. Hoping to retrieve even more, the city sued him and won an $8 million judgment in 2009.

“We’ve been using that judgment to collect any other money that we can find of his,” city lawyer Eric Proshansky said.

The city – led by the Department of Investigation – has recovered nearly $7 million from the scheme, including $6 million from an overseas company.

“DOI’s work helped identify how the funds were routed so they could be recovered,” DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said.

Probers discovered a bank in India containing about $700,000. The bank froze the money in 2006, but Venkataram’s sister sued in India to get the money.

In September 2010, U.S courts barred Venkataram and his reps from touching the money.

Venkataram’s court filings have ranged from “contradictory” to “misleading,” Manhattan Federal Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in July.

He claimed much of the money deposited in his name belongs to relatives and “should not be seized or forfeited.”

He said the money was in his name because India forbids “native residents” from keeping U.S. money in state banks.

In June, the bank transferred $223,000 to the city, records show; approximately $400,000 remains in the account.

Law Department spokeswoman Kate O’Brien Ahlers said the city is relentlessly looking for the rest of the money.

“It may or may not be out there, but if it is out there we’re certainly going to do everything we can to find it,” she said.

{NY Daily News/ Newscenter}



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