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NYC Says Court Staffer Stole $163K in Criminal Fines

Prosecutors filed charges Tuesday against a criminal court worker accused of pocketing $163,242 in fines he collected from hundreds of New Yorkers.

MANHATTAN (CN) - Prosecutors filed charges Tuesday against a criminal court worker accused of pocketing $163,242 in fines he collected from hundreds of New Yorkers.

A resident of Brooklyn, 36-year-old Carlos Sanchez is described in the 46-count indictment as senior court office assistant for the New York City Summons Court.

Located at 1 Centre Street, the court handles low-level criminal summonses for offenses such as public urination, as well fire and building code violations against corporations.

Prosecutors say part of Sanchez’s job entailed sorting through the mailed-in guilty pleas of those charged with public consumption of alcohol or public urination.

Such cases are typically resolved with a cashier’s check or money order for $25 or $50, respectively.

Sanchez is accused of stealing approximately 366 personal money orders and cashier’s checks, as well as approximately 207 corporate money orders and cashier’s checks, totaling $163,242.50.

Prosecutors say he accomplished the thefts between January 2015 and February 2017. Taking aim at the payee or memo fields in money orders, Sanchez allegedly forged his personal bank or credit card information, while disguising any court or case information handwritten on the payment.

Sanchez usually used the money to pay his credit card bills and pad his bank account, prosecutors say, but they note that other payments went toward covering his tracks, paying various corporate fines he had previously stolen.

Hundreds of individuals and corporations who paid their fines were erroneously listed in court records as having not, because of Sanchez’s actions, according to a statement from the city.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance notes that at least 15 of these individuals faced bench warrants, and at least five people who had already paid their fines were arrested.

At least six companies meanwhile had judgments executed against them erroneously, and some were contacted by collections agencies for nonpayment.

In addition to second-degree grand larceny, Sanchez faces 35 counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and 10 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.

DA Vance says his office is working with the courts to identify cases affected by Sanchez’s alleged criminal conduct, and to mitigate the consequences of his actions.

Sanchez’s arrest comes just weeks after four of New York City’s five boroughs expunged more than 644,000 decade-old summonses for low-level offenses.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said at the time that leaving the system flooded with aging warrants serves only to “drive law enforcement and communities apart.”

“New Yorkers with decade-old summons warrants face unnecessary employment, housing, and immigration consequences; and because they fear they will be arrested for an old infraction, they don’t collaborate with law enforcement,” Vance said in statement.

The New York City Police Department accumulated its enormous backlog of petty offenses during a time when its crime-fighting strategies relied on the now-widely panned “broken windows” theory of criminology, which held that tough clampdowns on violations like graffiti, subway-turnstile jumping, and public urination were the key to deterring violent crime.

In practice, NYPD overwhelmingly enforced these violations on black and Latino people, leading to a spate of civil-rights actions such as a class action lawsuit tackling racial profiling in the department’s stop-and-frisk program.

President Donald Trump groused heavily on the campaign trail about New York’s supposed “law and order” problem, but the Brennan Center for Justice found just the opposite. A nonprofit advocacy group based at New York University School of Law, the Brennan Center reported in 2015 that New York City has the lowest incidence of crime of the nation’s 30 largest cities.

Vance’s Manhattan office voided the bulk of summonses (240,472), ahead of Brooklyn (143,532), Queens (101,096) and the Bronx (159,394).

Only deep-red Staten Island spurned the gesture toward criminal-justice reform. Richmond County is the least populous of New York City’s five boroughs but had the highest number of most-sued officers in 2014, according to a New York Daily News report.

That was the year that Eric Garner was detained for selling loose cigarettes — a typical quality-of-life offense – outside the Staten Island ferry and was killed in a police officer’s illegal chokehold.

Black Lives Matter, the activist movement that took off on social media after the death in Florida of Trayvon Martin, held mass demonstrations in the city after a Staten Island jury refused to indict Garner’s killer, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Staten Island is now represented in Washington by the prosecutor in that case, Daniel Donovan.

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