Dead Workers' Families Stole $400K in City Pension Cash, Investigators Say
MANHATTAN — Ed Smith, a retired transit worker, was until recently collecting a pension like many other former city employees.
The only problem was that he died eight years ago.
In the meantime, his nephew, Kevin Smith, allegedly pocketed $181,000 of his uncle's monthly pension checks before the city finally caught on.
He wasn't the only one, according to a city Department of Investigation report obtained by DNAinfo.com New York's "On the Inside."
Emily Ardizzone's husband toiled for the Sanitation Department for decades before he died, leaving his wife with a pension. But after she passed away, her checks just kept rolling in, to the apparent joy of her son, Vincent, who collected nearly $5,000 and freely spent it, authorities said.
When investigators eventually went to talk to Vincent, he left a message on the prober’s voicemail, saying “come get me," the report said.
Ardizzone, Kevin Smith and six others who allegedly stole nearly $400,000 in pension funds were named in the 19-page DOI report, which details a myriad of schemes to grab the loot, the bulk of which was garnered by suspects failing to report that their relatives had died.
One man, Christopher Weaver, 49, was accused of stealing $44,165 from his sister, who was supposed to get their mother's death benefit, by concocting a complex scheme to make himself the beneficiary, sources said.
Two other very much alive pensioners had a scam of their own — they claimed checks were lost in the mail and collected replacements.
The DOI also found two cases where pensioner’s checks were, in fact, stolen. One involved a greedy neighbor in Queens who boosted a check from the mail, put her own name on it and cashed it. A similar theft took place in The Bronx.
According to the report, the DOI probe highlighted a crack in the system that relied heavily on relatives notifying the city when a retired worker died, as well as periodic checks.
As a result, the New York City Employee Retirement System implemented a new system within the past year that weekly compares a “Death Master File” provided by an outside vendor, National Technical Information Service, with their pension data bank.
“It stands to reason that the agency’s more recent shift to a weekly comparison schedule should have the effect of detecting and apprehending pension fraudsters before they have the opportunity to defraud the city,” DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn concluded in the report.
The suspects had plenty of excuses.
Kevin Smith, 51, allegedly told investigators he believed he was entitled to the money and insisted he used it to pay for medical bills that piled up before his uncle died. He never provided receipts to bolster his claim, and his case was turned over to Manhattan federal prosecutors in Manhattan, authorities said. His case is pending.
Another suspect, Eve Gonzalez, 41, told investigators she believed the $58,235 she collected since her aunt Freda Adam, a former Health and Hospitals worker, died were the proceeds of a private annuity, sources said. Her case was recently turned over to the Manhattan District Attorney and is pending.
Jacqueline Kingcade, 60 who lives on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, collected more than $100,000 and said she thought it was an “ordinary death benefit” left to her by her aunt, Pearl Floyde, a former Human Resource Administration employee, who retired March 4, 1998, and died Sept. 6, 2006.
But an “ordinary death benefit” is given out only when a city employee dies while still employed.
Kingcade offered to repay the money. Her case is still under DOI investigation.
Queens DA Richard Brown charged Deidre Harris Diallo, 43, who allegedly stole her neighbor's $4,960 pension check, with possession of stolen property and grand larceny. Her case is pending.
As for Vincent Ardizzone, 55, he pleaded guilty to felony forgery after DOI tracked him down. He was sentenced to one-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay back $4,561.