17 charged with filing false claims as victims

24 stand accused of stealing money meant for those hurt by Sept. 11


NEW YORK - Twelve employees of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and five others were charged yesterday with filing false claims and stealing money meant for victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, authorities said.

All but one of the Port Authority employees were in the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks, but they escaped safely and suffered no financial hardship as a result, the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, said at a news conference yesterday.

The employees, who have resigned or been suspended since the investigation began, received $19,581 from the American Red Cross and Safe Horizon after filing claims stating that they had become unemployed because of the attacks, Morgenthau said.

The fraud was discovered after a Port Authority union representative blew the whistle on several employees, prompting the agency to begin an investigation, said Robert E. Van Etten, the inspector general of the Port Authority. Four of the 12 employees charged yesterday then came forward voluntarily, he said.

Four other people were charged separately yesterday with stealing $20,697 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency by claiming that their apartments were damaged during the attacks.

Another person, who works for a Long Island real estate leasing company that does not have offices in the trade center, was charged with filing a forged letter from her employer to apply for benefits from the state workers' compensation fund and Safe Horizon.

Meanwhile, Van Etten said the Port Authority is reviewing the records of its 7,500 employees for possible fraud. The district attorney's office is investigating about 50 other people - most of them not Port Authority employees - who also might have filed false claims, Morgenthau said.

Yesterday's charges bring to 24 the number of Port Authority employees accused of making false claims in connection with the attacks.

In November, 12 cafeteria workers employed by the Port Authority were arrested on charges that they stole more than $14,000 in disaster relief money from the American Red Cross by claiming that they had lost their jobs because of the attack.

"We take these charges seriously and may ask for jail sentences," Morgenthau said. The defendants are accused of falsifying business records and other felonies that are punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Cheryl M. Ivery and Beverly Jones, two Port Authority accounting clerks who were charged yesterday, said after their arraignments that they had been injured during the attack and had not made false claims.

"The Red Cross said I was eligible," Jones said as she stood outside the district attorney's offices on Centre Street. She said she had injured her leg in the attack and resigned from her job in early October, shortly after applying for assistance. She got $1,500 from the Red Cross, she said.

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