Thursday, June 24, 2010

One NYC DA's Office Invokes State Hate Crimes Law As Added Leverage When Hammering Scammers Targeting Elderly In Home Equity, Other Ripoffs

In Kew Gardens, Queens, The New York Times reports:
  • In the public’s imagination, the classic hate crime is an assault born of animus against a particular ethnicity or sexual orientation, like the case of the Long Island man convicted in April of killing an Ecuadorean immigrant after hunting for Hispanics to beat up.

  • But in Queens since 2005, at least five people have been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, committing a very different kind of hate crime — singling out elderly victims for nonviolent crimes like mortgage fraud because they believed older people would be easy to deceive and might have substantial savings or home equity.

  • And this month, Queens prosecutors charged two women with stealing more than $31,000 from three elderly men they had befriended separately. The women, Gina L. Miller, 39, and Sylvia Johns, 23, of Flushing, were charged with grand larceny as a hate crime.

  • This approach, which is being closely watched by prosecutors across New York State, has won Queens prosecutors stiffer sentences, including prison for criminals who could otherwise go free, even after draining an elderly person’s savings. Without a hate crime, theft of less than $1 million carries no mandatory prison time; with it, the thief must serve for a year and may face 25.

  • The legal thinking behind the novel method is that New York’s hate crimes statute does not require prosecutors to prove defendants “hate” the group the victim belongs to, merely that they commit the crime because of some belief, correct or not, they hold about the group. “Criminals that prey on the elderly, they love the elderly — this is their source of wealth,” said Kristen A. Kane, a Queens assistant district attorney.(1)


  • Some New York prosecutors, who asked not to be named because they did not intend to criticize colleagues, said that while the approach intrigued them, they were waiting to see if convictions were overturned on appeal before considering it. The strategy has never been tested in appellate court; many of those charged have pleaded guilty, waiving their right to appeal. But Queens trial judges have allowed it against defense lawyers who argue that the hate crime charges are inappropriate.

For more, see A Novel Twist for Prosecution of Hate Crimes.

(1) Kane said the hate charges gave her extra leverage in plea bargaining; by winning felony pleas and probation, prosecutors ensured that repeat offenders would receive strong sentences, the story states.