New York fraud crimes involving Grand Larceny and other thefts come in a variety of "flavors." Whether by Embezzlement, Extortion or Larceny by Trick, there is always a new scheme to be perpetrated on an unsuspecting victim. As proof of the countless ways in which people attempt to defraud or steal from others, one has to look no further than the press releases routinely issued by the Manhattan, Queens and other New York City area District Attorney's Offices. In fact, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. announced the indictment yesterday of Katia Gaton, a woman who allegedly posed as a New York Hilton Hotel employee and stole money from victims who were seeking jobs. The indictment charges Gaton with multiple counts including Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (New York Penal Law 155.30) and Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (New York Penal Law 155.35).
Briefly, and before addressing the allegations in this particular arrest and indictment, one is guilty of NY PL 155.30 if one steals more than $1,000, but no more than $3,000. One is guilty of NY PL 155.35 if one steals more than $3,000, but no more than $50,000. Because this is a theft case involving four separate victims, as opposed to multiple thefts from one victim, the total amount of the thefts is not aggregated to increase the degree or level of the crime. Here, even if it was, the threshold of more than $50,000 would not have been met anyway.
Although the allegations against Gaton are merely allegations and not proof of any illegal conduct, prosecutors claim that Gaton lied to at least five people by asserting that she worked at Hilton New York. For a fee, it is further alleged, Gaton told these people she could secure employment for them in a wide range of positions including as bellhops and housekeepers. Unfortunately for the purported victims, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office believes that Gaton was not an employee of Hilton and advised that anyone could submit an application online for employment without a fee.
What appeared to be a well thought out scheme, it is alleged that Gaton took "application fees" from jobseekers who believed that they would work 40-50 hours a week. Gaton went as far as meeting the complainant at the Hilton New York where she gave them tours of the public areas. Although the job seekers believed they would meet with management, Gaton would advise them that the manager was unavailable and they would have to return on a later date. If true, prosecutors are likely further enflamed that Gaton took money from her alleged victims claiming it was for work uniforms and shoes. Some were even advised of starting dates. As a result of the scheme, DA Vance believes that Gaton pocketed over $13,000 by taking between $1,500 and $5,700 from each "client."
Not that $13,000 is an insignificant amount, but in the realm of New York theft crimes and larceny violations that are perpetrated in the streets and suites of New York, it pales in comparison to some of the other infractions that monopolize the front pages of the tabloids. What is disturbing here, however, is not the dollars and cents, but the allegation that those seeking entry level jobs in a tumultuous economy were victimized by a claimed huckster. To be clear, the dollar amount of the theft could potentially be manageable in terms of mitigation, but the manner in which the scheme was perpetrated and the victims of the crime exacerbate the offense from a relatively serious one to an alleged crime that prosecutors cannot ever permit. It is not merely my own belief that matters, but that of Manhattan's chief prosecutor. Said District Attorney Vance, "Taking advantage of people searching for work in a tough economy is reprehensible." Make no mistake. Gaton has a battle ahead.
As this case moves through New York's criminal justice system it will be interesting to learn about the evidence. How did prosecutors identify Gaton and how will they provide evidence of this at trial (should it reach that point)? For example, did complainants identify Gaton in a lineup? Did video surveillance record Gaton with these people at the Hilton? Further, did Gaton admit she perpetrated the offenses or was at the Hilton in those videos? How did Gaton and these complainants meet? Were there advertisements on Craigslist, for example? If so, can IP information be used to trace the fraud to Gaton? What about cellular records? Although not necessarily the first line of defense, how do prosecutors plan on establishing the dollar amount of the fraud? Were these cash transactions? If so, would bank records of the complainants reflect the accurate withdrawals? There are many questions to be asked, but I am confident Team DANY.GOV has many answers.
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