9/11 Medical Examiners/Embezzlers Sent Millions to India

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2nd former NYC worker pleads guilty to embezzling 9/11 money

NEW YORK (AP) _ A former medical examiner's office employee admitted Tuesday to running an elaborate scheme in which he and a subordinate stole millions of dollars earmarked to identify the victims of the World Trade Center attacks.

Natarjan Venkataram, 43, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to 16 charges, including embezzlement and money laundering, city Department of Investigation officials said.

Last week, his partner, 40-year-old Rosa Abreu, pleaded guilty to charges of embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy. She faces a maximum 75 years in prison, and Venkataram could spend the rest of his life behind bars when they're sentenced in January.

"It was a very complex scheme," DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said. "We went to enormous lengths" to investigate them.

Abreu was the director of records at the medical examiner's office, and Venkataram was her boss. They resigned from OCME in September 2005.

The case became known in 2004 when people in the medical examiner's office became suspicious about Venkataram's procurement practices.

Abreu was responsible for supporting computer systems used to track and identify forensic evidence, including DNA, from crime scenes, prosecutors said. After the Sept. 11 attack, the office needed more computer services to identify victims through evidence collected at ground zero.

The two, charged in 2005, steered more than $13 million in computer service contracts and purchase orders between 1999 and 2004 in exchange for cash payments to companies that did little or no work.

Hearn said DOI investigators had tracked much of the money to India, where the pair stashed it at Venkataram's direction.

"We are trying to get back as much of the money as we can," she said. "We traced a great deal of it to India. We are hoping to get it all back but one never knows with these things."

Most of the funds came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.