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Queens County Robbed Estates: Probe

March 2, 1988

By Paul Moses

City and state investigators have recovered more than $100,000 in jewelry, coins and other goods that were stolen from estates overseen by the Queens County public administrator, officials said yesterday.

State Attorney General Robert Abrams said the goods were recovered during an undercover probe of the public administrator’s office, which is responsible for settling the estates of deceased people without any known heirs. Unclaimed assets are sold, and the funds held by the state for a limited period of time in case any heirs come forward.

Abrams also announced the arrest yesterday of the only investigator in the Queens public administrator’s office on charges involving the theft of a watch, a ring, a television and $120 in cash.

In a “sting” probe, investigators made it appear that a fictitious Queens man they identified as “Alexander Ellis” had died. The employee who was arrested, [Defendant], 63, of Middle Village, allegedly took a phony inventory of the goods left behind in an Elmhurst apartment where Ellis purportedly lived.

[Defendant] was charged with grand larceny and filing false reports; he was released in his own recognizance at State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens, Queens.

[Defendant’s] attorney, Todd Greenberg, said his client “denies the allegations. I’m looking forward to our day in court. It is possible other people had access to the property when it was brought into the administrator’s office.”

City Investigation Commissioner Kevin Frawley, whose staff assisted in the probe, said he expected more arrests would be made. “This is not a problem only in Queens County,” he said.”… It’s a problem throughout the city of New York.”

During a news conference in Manhattan, Abrams displayed a glittering array of items that had allegedly been stolen, including coins, stamps, paintings, jewelry, sterling silverware and glassware. He said investigators also seized $12,000 in cash. Gesturing toward the goods, he emotionally declared that they were heirlooms handed on from one generation to the next and then stolen.

But no one has been charged with stealing the goods Abrams exhibited; he would not say where they were found or why he believes they were stolen property. However, he did say the investigation is on-going.

James Collins, who was appointed Queens public administrator in July, 1986, said he did not know about the goods Abrams exhibited.

Queens Surrogate Louis D. Laurino, who has the power to appoint and remove the Queens public administrator, proposed yesterday that a commission be formed to oversee public administrators.

Abrams and State Comptroller Edward V. Regan had previously issued a report charging that public administrators’ offices in the city are poorly run, and said they’d seek state legislation to improve the system.