Rikers rip-off: NYC correction officer nailed for $171k in overtime scam
A New York City Department of Correction (DOC) officer, a 56-year-old man from Staten Island, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with federal program fraud for allegedly stealing over $170,000 through false salary and overtime claims.
James Internicola, a veteran with the DOC since 1996, had responsibilities that included overseeing all recycling operations at Rikers Island.
The charges were announced by Breon Peace, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, along with FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge James Smith and New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Jocelyn E. Strauber.
According to the U.S. attorney, Internicola defrauded both the city and the DOC by falsely claiming to have worked significant hours, including overtime.
“As alleged, the defendant defrauded the people of New York City and the New York City Department of Correction by claiming to work significant amounts of hours, including overtime, that he did not actually work,” Peace said. “Instead of being at work, the defendant was often at home or even on vacation.
“Correction officers who steal tax dollars by fraudulently obtaining compensation should take note of today’s arrest and know that this office is working with our law enforcement partners to root out corruption at Rikers Island,” Peace continued.
Intericola earns an annual salary of $92,073 per year, according to public records. However, he has been padding his annual income with overtime for years. Since 2016, when Intericola earned $80,788 in base salary, he has managed to pull in at least $112,000 in salary with overtime.
In 2018, Internicola earned a base pay of $85,292, but was able to more than double his pay with overtime and earned $184,230 according to public records. In 2022, he pulled in $175,224 just in overtime money after a $92,073 salary, which left him with $267,297 overall that year before taxes to run a recycling program.
Internicola was the focus of a New York Post article in December 2022 when the paper reported that Rikers Island guards were being forced to work overtime. The claim at the time was that due to disgruntled staffers quitting at unprecedented levels, guards were being forced to work up to 100 hours per week.
However, the criminal complaint that was issued on Wednesday accuses Internicola of being paid when he was at home in Staten Island or even on vacation.
Evidence supporting the allegations comes from various sources, including license plate reader data, E-Z pass toll records, and cell site location information.
These data indicate Internicola routinely arrived at work late and left early, and in some instances didn’t show up at Rikers at all. Locations where he was actually found during supposed work hours included his Staten Island home, the Jersey Shore and even vacationing in Aruba.
For example, on June 6, 2022, Internicola claimed to work from 3:00 a.m. to 11:31 a.m. but was actually in Aruba, undergoing a customs inspection at 1:41 p.m., prosecutors claim in the criminal complaint.
On July 7, 2022, despite claiming a workday from 3:00 a.m. to 7:31 p.m., E-Z Pass data showed he was driving on the Garden State Parkway by 11:11 a.m. Cell phone data confirmed he was en route to the Jersey Shore.
License plate and E-Z Pass data frequently revealed significant discrepancies between Internicola’s claimed work hours and actual whereabouts. For instance, on Nov. 4, 2021, he said he worked from 3:00 a.m. to 7:31 p.m., but E-Z Pass data showed he didn’t cross into Brooklyn until 4:58 a.m. and was heading home by 9:43 a.m., meaning he likely did not work at least 12 of the 16 hours claimed.
These fraudulent acts cost the Department of Corrections at least $1,784 in just one examined week, suggesting a significant financial impact over time.
The criminal complaint specifies that Internicola fraudulently obtained more than $171,000 between July 2021 and January 2023, which includes more than 2,250 hours he did not actually work.
If convicted, Internicola faces up to 10 years in prison. The charges are currently allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The case is being handled by the Office’s Public Integrity Section, with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Philip Pilmar and Andrew D. Grubin leading the prosecution.
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