Attorney General James Announces Arrest of New York State Employee for Unemployment Insurance Theft and Tax Secrecy Violations

Johnny Neal Stole More than $17,000 in Unemployment Insurance Benefits While Employed at State Agency; Unlawfully Accessed Secret Taxpayer Information to Benefit Friends and Family

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced the arrest of Johnny Neal, of Troy, NY, for filling false documents with the state in order to claim nearly $17,000 in unemployment insurance benefits. Neal filed for and collected the unemployment funds even though he was working as a supervisor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (DTF). Additionally, Neal was charged with improperly using his position at DTF to access confidential tax information outside the bounds of his official duties.

“Unemployment insurance benefits have been a crucial resource in a difficult time for many New Yorkers,” said Attorney General James. “By fraudulently collecting these benefits, Johnny Neal both cheated taxpayers and stole from those who rely on unemployment payments. My office will ensure that anyone who commits fraud or violates the public’s trust will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.”

In order to obtain unemployment insurance benefits, a potential recipient must verify that they are not working or working below the requisite number of hours. Once a potential recipient verifies their employment status, the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) then determines if they are eligible for unemployment insurance payments and at what level.

Attorney General James alleges that on September 20, 2020, Neal filed for unemployment insurance benefits with DOL and falsely claimed that he was not working and his office was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, as a DTF employee, Neal continued to collect his taxpayer-funded salary throughout the pandemic. Neal improperly collected more than $17,000 in unemployment payments. Additionally, Neal allegedly abused his position by improperly accessing confidential taxpayer information for family, friends, and acquaintances in efforts to aid them in their tax preparation process. Taxpayer information is confidential and can only be accessed for legitimate purposes consistent with the responsibilities of New York state to levy and collect taxes.

Neal was arraigned today before Albany City Court Judge Holly Trexler in Albany County Court on one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a class D felony), in violation of Penal Law §155.35, and violation of the secrecy provisions of Tax Law §1825 (a class A Misdemeanor).  

The charges are merely accusations and Neal is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The OAG wishes to thank DTF Criminal Investigator Jemayel Mall, Director of Internal Affairs Brian Hickey, and Acting Commissioner Amanda Hiller, as well as DOL for their work on this investigation.

“Taxpayers trust us with their most sensitive data and when that trust is violated to any degree, those responsible must be held accountable,” said New York State Acting Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Amanda Hiller. “We thank Attorney General James and her office for their work on this case.”

“Unemployment Insurance is a critical lifeline for New Yorkers to utilize during their greatest time of need,” said New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. “Stealing Unemployment Insurance benefits, especially during a public health crisis, is intolerable. If you break the law, you will be held accountable. I thank the Attorney General’s Office for helping us safeguard this crucial support system that is a lifeline for millions of New Yorkers.”

The criminal investigation was handled by Detective Timothy R. Sicko and Acting Executive Officer Samuel Scotellaro, under the supervision of Deputy Chief and Acting Commanding Officer Edward Carrasco of the Major Investigations Unit. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Investigator Oliver Pu-Folkes and First Deputy Chief John Reidy. Principal Auditor Investigator Meaghan Scotellaro, under the direction of Chief Auditor Kristen Fabbri and Deputy Chief Auditor Sandy Bizzarro, provided forensic analysis during this investigation.

Assistant Attorney General Benjamin M. Mastaitis is handling the prosecution in this matter, under the supervision of Public Integrity Bureau Chief Gerard Murphy and Deputy Bureau Chief Kiran Heer, with assistance by Senior Analyst Sara Pogorzelski. Both the Investigations Bureau and the Public Integrity Bureau are part of the Division for Criminal Justice. The Division for Criminal Justice is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General Jose Maldonado and First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.