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29 Charged in Property Tax Fraud Scheme

November 22, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ City workers, in exchange for bribes from property owners, falsified computer records to eliminate nearly $13 million in unpaid taxes in a scheme called the largest tax fraud case in New York City history.

Some of the tax bills were simply erased, but others were cleared when workers moved money paid by legitimate taxpayers _ including Donald Trump _ to the accounts of bribe givers.

Authorities charged 29 people in federal indictments _ three former city employees, 22 property owners and four others who acted as go-betweens, officials said Thursday.

Authorities expect to charge as many as 200 more people.

``Landlords who engaged in this improper activity would be well advised to come forward voluntarily now, rather than waiting for us to knock on their door,″ said Frank Maas, acting commissioner of the city Department of Investigation.

Maas promised that the city would recover ``every nickel″ of the money, including the $13 million that was wiped off the books and $7 million in interest.

The scheme involved 1,500 mainly residential buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn and hundreds of landlords.

The Department of Investigation began probing the tax fraud ring, believed to have begun in 1992, after receiving a tip late in 1994.

Three employees of the city collector’s offices exploited computer ``glitches″ to make it appear that unpaid taxes had been paid, officials said. In exchange, landlords handed over cash and gifts _ ranging from a bottle of lotion to a Jeep Cherokee.

The landlords paid bribes generally amounting to about 10 percent _ but sometimes higher _ of the taxes erased.

The three former city workers were identified as Basil Randolph Jones, former deputy city collector of the Brooklyn City Collector’s office, and Mariano Ventura and Judith Julceus, technical support aides in the Brooklyn office.

Jones was arrested last February and Ventura last March, and both pleaded guilty in October. Julceus was arrested Thursday, officials said.

Most of the landlord defendants were arrested Wednesday or Thursday, officials said. Three of the 29 were still being sought.

The defendants face federal bribery and fraud charges and could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison per count.

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