NOT ALL FRAUD SENTENCES TURN OUT TO BE EQUAL

ROBERT GAVIN STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B3

Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Angela Lopez sure did not want to go to prison.


Here is something she will like even less: A number of people have committed crimes very similar to her fraud -- and received far less of a punishment.


Lopez, 37, of Colonie, a mother of five children with another on the way, was sentenced by acting Supreme Court Justice Dan Lamont to 2 to 6 years in prison Friday for grand larceny and welfare fraud for stealing nearly $100,000 in benefits. She also must pay back $65,000 she received from the Albany County Department of Social Services and $29,000 from the Social Security Administration.


Lopez, you may recall, drew no shortage of attention in November when she arrived for her arraignment in a black pin-striped suit sporting a Louis Vuitton handbag. She drove off in a Lincoln Navigator.


After pleading guilty this year, she begged the judge to let her take back her guilty plea, a request nearly impossible to grant.


Her case was high-profile.


And her sentence was on the higher end.


For example, in August 2009, Adriel McNair of Niskayuna was charged in the largest welfare fraud case Schenectady County prosecutors said they had handled in 31/2 years. McNair was charged with ripping off nearly $107,000 in Social Security and welfare benefits using a fake identity. She pleaded guilty in July 2010 to two felonies. McNair has yet to be sentenced. Visiting Schenectady County Judge Richard Giardino had told her if she came up with almost half the restitution she owed, he would be inclined to sentence her to probation, the Daily Gazette reported. At worst, McNair faces 1 to 3 years behind bars.


In 2008, Diane Gamble of Watervliet, who earned close to $80,000 a year as a longtime staffer for Bronx Assemblyman Jose Rivera, was charged with stealing nearly $53,000 in Medicaid benefits from the Albany County Department of Social Services.


Like Lopez, Gamble initially claimed she was innocent. Just like Lopez, Gamble had a luxury car. And, like Lopez, Gamble seemed to not understand why her case would merit public interest (Gamble even asked a Times Union reporter, "This is news?").


Gamble pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny in March 2009 and faced 11/3 to 5 years in prison. Just like Lopez, Gamble also asked for an 11-hour break at her sentencing.


Unlike Lopez, Gamble got it.


At her sentencing in May 2009, Judge Thomas Breslin adjourned Gamble's sentencing so she could have the opportunity to pay back the money and "make it right."


A year later, Gamble showed up for the sentencing without the money paid back. Her punishment? Five years probation. That and she must pay back the $53,000 -- in $100 monthly increments.


In 2007, Carmine Clemente, the deputy counsel for the New York Power Authority, admitted he bilked more than $21,000 in benefits by claiming his ex-wife on his health insurance policy after their divorce. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and agreed to never work in state government again. Clemente, who never spent a day in prison, was reinstated to the bar in November.


The comparison to other cases was not lost on Lopez' attorney, Holly Trexler, who said Friday that the politically connected and "hotshots," such as former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, have received lesser sentences for committing more serious offenses than her client.


No DA at DA's office?


It might be time for some technical work on the phones at the Schenectady County district attorney's office.


Recent calls to the office revealed an office directory that asks callers to type in the first six letters of an employee's name. A key name that was missing? District Attorney Robert Carney.


"I'm sorry, but no names match that spelling," the recording states.


A call to the cellphone of the district attorney Tuesday showed Carney was at work -- even if the office phones were not.


Boyajian selected to association


Donald Boyajian, a partner in the Dreyer Boyajian firm in Albany, has been named president of the Capital Region Affiliate of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.


Boyajian, a personal injury attorney for 25 years who graduated from the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce Law Center, will lead "affiliate members in advancing its mission to promote and protect the rights of personal injury accident victims throughout the state of New York," the association announced.


Reach Robert Gavin at 434-2403 or rgavin@timesunion.com