New York physician Dorothy Ogundu has been sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison for ripping off City, State and federal programs for a fake health clinic. The Nigerian-born Ogundu was convicted in October on 29 counts, including second-degree grand larceny, forgery in the second degree, and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing.
The prosecution was based on information uncovered by the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), and made public through a New York Post article in April 2012. The Ogundu exposé was a spinoff of our investigation of Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), who secured a $380,500 earmark for the "clinic."
After reviewing Meeks' earmarks in 2011, NLPC decided to take a closer look at Angeldocs, Inc., which operated the fake clinic in Queens, called the Aki Life Health Center. Soonafter, NLPC filed a Complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Angeldocs, alleging self-dealing and inurnment by Ogundu. We also provided the information to Isabel Vincent of the New York Post.
A visit to the clinic by Post reporters found it "dusty, unheated" and having "no visible patients or staff." According to the Post, "Ogundu, who is the only clinic staff member, refused to say how many patients she treats or whether she has malpractice insurance." The building had never received a certificate of occupancy from New York City. Listed as a director on Angeldocs documents is a Dr. Jasmin Moshirpur, who told the Post that he had never heard of the charity.
The news story prompted an investigation and State indictment. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleged that Ogundu "stole" a total of $373,000 that came from portions of twelve separate government grants. She swindled the federal government out of $195,000; New York state out of $87,000, and New York City out of $195,000. Ogundu allegedly used the funds to pay the mortgage and utilities on the building she owned, as well as buy and ship cars to her native Nigeria. Click here to download a pdf of the 29-page indictment.
Ogundu could have received a sentence of up to 15 years. Fraud connected to human services' programs in New York City is endemic, often with the contrivance of elected officials. Given the seriousness of the charges on which Ogundu was convicted, and the widespread nature of the problem, we believe Ogundu got off lightly.
When she was convicted in October, Schneiderman put out a press release claiming:
“Today’s conviction sends a clear message: if you use taxpayer funds to line your own pocket, you will face serious consequences…We will continue to work with Comptroller DiNapoli and our law enforcement partners to use every tool at our disposal to crack down on anyone abusing the public trust.”
Apparently, these “tools” include reading the New York Post. While we welcome this prosecution, we also point out that New York law enforcement authorities have been largely indifferent to political corruption. A slew of prosecutions of state and local officials took place after information was provided by the National Legal and Policy Center to the New York Post, New York Times and New York Daily News.
Investigations were launched only in response to the headlines. NLPC does not have an office in New York, and much of the investigative work was done by a Florida-based researcher sitting in front of his computer. Everything we discovered was in publicly available documents, right under the nose of Schneiderman and his intrepid investigators.
Schneiderman, in the same press release, went out of his way to absolve the politicians who secured federal, City and State earmarks for Ogundu:
Individual disbursements of public funds are not themselves evidence of any wrongdoing, and it would be inappropriate to presume that any particular public official has engaged in misconduct simply by directing funds to a non-profit.
We doubt Meeks and the others were fooled by Ogundu and her fake clinic. They arranged the earmarks because there was something in it for them. Schneiderman is silent on whether his office investigated the obvious possibility that Ogundu made kick-backs to her friends.