New York, NY - September 16, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the indictment of Keisha Relf Davis, an employee of the New York State Department of Education, and an accomplice for stealing over $2.5 million from the state by diverting funds to NYC-area driving schools for services that were never rendered. As alleged, Davis received bribes in the form of regular cash payments for her role in the scheme. Together, Davis and Steven Washington, the schools’ program director, have been charged today with 19 felony counts including Grand Larceny and Bribery and face up to 25 years in state prison.
“Today’s indictment sends a clear message: no one is above the law and there must be one set of rules for everyone,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Taking advantage of a government job to steal millions of dollars from New York taxpayers is a shameful violation of the public’s trust. My office must and will remain vigilant for such blatant acts of fraud.”
“These criminal actions are reprehensible and demand severe penalties,” said Kevin Smith, New York State Education Department Deputy Commissioner. “The employees of the Office of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services (ACCES) work toward the education and employment needs of New York State's disabled adults. The actions of this one counselor exploited New York's most vulnerable citizens for personal gain. When Education Department internal controls uncovered this criminal activity an immediate referral was made to the Attorney General for prosecution. Agency protocols will be tightened further to ensure that such criminality cannot again stand in the way of our mission to provide individuals with disabilities every opportunity for employment, economic self-sufficiency and independence.”
Davis was a vocational counselor for DOE’s Office of Adult Career and Continuation Education Services’ (ACCES) Vocational Rehabilitation program, which offers state-funded access to services like driver education to New Yorkers with qualifying disabilities and functional limitations. The investigation, which was conducted by the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau, revealed that Davis allegedly worked in concert with Washington, the program director of Americana Commercial Driving School, in Manhattan, and Roadway Driving School, in the Bronx. (The owners of those two schools, Juani Ortiz and Juan Cabrera, respectively, pleaded guilty last month in connection with this scheme.)
According to the indictment unsealed today in Bronx County Court, Washington charged non-disabled customers $300 to $500 cash and required a copy of their Social Security card in order to receive driving lessons. He then provided the students’ information and cash payments – which constituted an ongoing bribery scheme – directly to Davis, who created, submitted and approved falsified documents indicating that the students received their training through the ACCES program. (The students were not aware that ACCES services were being applied for and approved in their names.)
As a result, the driving schools received almost $5,000 in reimbursement from the state for each of the roughly 540 students for whom Davis submitted ACCES paperwork. As part of the alleged scheme, Davis would keep the cash payments, Washington was paid 12% of each reimbursement and the schools’ owners pocketed the rest.
The indictment charges Keisha Relf Davis and Washington with one count of Grand Larceny in the First Degree (a Class B felony); one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a Class C felony); four counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree (Class E felonies); and four counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree (Class E felonies). The indictment charges Davis individually with two counts of Bribe Receiving in the Second Degree (a Class C felony), four counts of Forgery in the Second Degree (Class D felonies) and one count of Defrauding the Government (a Class E felony); it charges Washington individually with two counts of Bribery in the Second Degree (a Class C felony). The top count of the indictment carries a mandatory prison term, with a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years.
The Attorney General thanks the New York State Department of Education for its assistance in investigating the case. Prosecuting the case are Senior Counsel Wanda Perez-Maldonado and Assistant Attorney Daniel Bajger of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau, which is led by Chief Daniel Cort, Deputy Bureau Chief Stacy Aronowitz, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan. The investigation was handled by Investigator Angel LaPorte and Investigator Sixto Santiago, of the Attorney General's Investigations Bureau, which is led by Chief Dominick Zarrella, with assistance provided by forensic auditor Edward J. Keegan and legal support analyst Kerry Anne Rodriguez.
The charges are merely accusations and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Anyone with additional information on this matter is asked to call the Attorney General’s Office at 518-474-8686.