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Officials: NYC DA’s offices see windfall in seized assets

Independent watchdog says Manhattan District Attorney’s office led way with more than $730M collected in state and federal funds as of June, 2017.

Crime pays for the city’s five district attorney offices.

New York’s top prosecutors have amassed hundreds of millions over the years through federal and state asset forfeiture programs and, according to the Independent Budget Office, the way those funds are used is subject to little public transparency and accountability.

In a briefing report issued Wednesday, the IBO, a publicly funded agency tasked with giving independent information about the city budget, noted that the Manhattan district attorney’s office had more than $730 million in federal- and state- forfeited funds on hand at the end of June 2017, an amount far exceeding its city-funded budget of about $125 million.

Asset forfeiture funds are a result of federal and state law enforcement drug operations, as well as of settlements involving banks and corporations in cases of financial crime.

The big gain for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. was nearly $450 million from the 2014 settlement of a federal case against BNP Paribas Bank, the largest bank in France, over allegations of falsified financial records, the IBO noted.

The recovered funds are used for a variety of law enforcement activities by the district attorneys, including additional investigations, training, education, certain salary costs, as well as drug and gang education programs. While the reporting requirements for the federal money ask that beginning and ending balances in the forfeiture account be disclosed, such is not the case for state forfeiture money, according to Doug Turetsky, head of the IBO.

“These are essentially public funds and there is a legitimate argument that the public should know more about what is out there and how it should be used,” Turetsky said.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had $512 million in state forfeiture cash, plus $250 million in federal forfeiture funds, Turetsky said

The other district attorneys, as of June 30, 2016, had varied amounts of federal forfeiture cash. Queens had $113.5 million; Brooklyn, $6.1 million; the Bronx, $7.7 million and Staten Island, $3 million. State funds for those four offices were not available, the IBO said.

“We didn’t push them,” Turetsky said about efforts made to get the other four district attorney offices to come up with state forfeiture totals.

Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance, said “all of the accounts, balances, and bank transactions associated with the Manhattan DA’s criminal justice investments are fully transparent and registered with the New York City Department of Finance, and have been audited by the NYC Comptroller.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said his office received “a significant amount of funds for our efforts in the HSBC investigation, in which HSBC admitted to money laundering and U.S. sanctions violations.” She didn’t disclose the amount.

Press officials for the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island district attorneys declined to comment.

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