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February 18, 2010

DiNapoli: Fraudulent Attempt To Collect Money From Unclaimed Funds Leads To Guilty Plea

Oneida County Woman Sentenced to Six Months in Jail

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said that as a result of an investigation by his staff, Oneida County District Attorney, Matt Worth, had arraigned Helen Johnsbury on seven felony counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree (Penal Law § 175.35 - class E felony) after Johnsbury attempted to collect on another person's unclaimed funds. Johnsbury subsequently pled guilty to a misdemeanor and faces a sentence of up to six months in jail to be followed by six months house arrest.

"These are tough economic times, but fraud is fraud," DiNapoli said. "We will not tolerate such behavior. Our Office of Unclaimed Funds works diligently to get money to its rightful owners. Anyone who tries to scam their way into someone else's cash will be prosecuted."

On March 2007, Johnsbury contacted the Office of Unclaimed Funds (OUF) to obtain funds from three bank accounts owned by Gertrude Connolly, a resident of Irvington, New York, who had passed away a short time earlier. Johnsbury indicated that Gertrude Connolly was her aunt, but later contradicted herself in an application form, indicating that her relationship to Connolly was "step-daughter/caretaker." In the follow up conversations with OUF representatives, Ms. Johnsbury admitted that she had never been related to Connolly. Johnsbury later submitted a funeral bill and several related documents that purported she had paid Connolly’s funeral expenses. The funeral bill appeared to have been altered, causing an OUF representative to reach out to the funeral home for more information about Connolly’s funeral. The funeral director who handled Connolly’s funeral informed OUF that the funeral expenses had been paid for, in large part, by the Oneida County Department of Social Services.

OUF referred the case to the Office of the State Comptroller’s Division of Investigations in April 2009. After reviewing and gathering some background information, Investigations contacted the Oneida County DA’s Office in June 2009. On January 28, 2010, Johnsbury was indicted, arrested and arraigned several days later, at which time she pled guilty to a misdemeanor. She is scheduled to be sentenced on April 5th.

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