Public Employees Charged in ID Theft Scheme

( – Public employees, including members of the New York City Department of Homeless Services, have been charged in a criminal conspiracy involving the production of ghost guns, burglary, and defrauding a state Covid relief program. The indictment, filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, lists 18 defendants, including employees from various public departments such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the U.S. Postal Service.

The investigation, initiated in 2022, initially focused on suspicions about individuals using 3-D printers to manufacture untraceable firearms known as ghost guns. The probe revealed that Craig Freeman, who worked at the Barbara Kleiman homeless shelter, and another defendant used online platforms like eBay and Amazon to procure materials for illegal gun production.

However, the inquiry expanded when evidence suggested a broader scheme. Five employees from the Department of Homeless Services, including Freeman, were implicated in stealing the personal information of homeless individuals. This data was then utilized to submit 170 false applications for funds from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, resulting in a fraudulent gain of $1.2 million.

To execute their scheme, the defendants redirected state-mailed bank cards to their residences, minimizing exposure. They later shifted their operation to an Upper East Side address, where Sabur Khalifah, a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, was involved in intercepting the mail and delivering it to the conspirators.

As the conspiracy progressed, conflicts arose regarding the distribution of the stolen funds. In response, two members, including Sameera Roberts Baker, burglarized the home of one of the alleged ringleaders, accusing him of withholding money.

Text messages exchanged between the defendants during the application process reveal discussions about fabricating professional backgrounds for the impersonated homeless individuals. The investigation also uncovered attempts to dispose of incriminating evidence after an arrest.

Bragg emphasized the intertwining of street crimes and white-collar fraud in this complex case, illustrating a growing trend where violent crimes and traditional white-collar fraud converge. The charges include grand larceny, conspiracy, and burglary, with all defendants pleading not guilty during arraignment.

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