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Indian American jailed for stealing 9/11 funds


New York, July 13 (IANS) An Indian American former official has been sentenced to 15 years in jail by a court here for stealing almost $9 million of government money, most of which was intended to help identify victims of 9/11 terror attacks, and stashing it away in India.

Natarajan Venkataram, 43, of Queens, who had pleaded guilty to siphoning off the money last year, was also ordered to pay $2.97 million in restitution and forfeiture by Manhattan federal court’s District Judge Robert Patterson, WNBC television reported.

Venkataram, who served as a director in the office of chief medical examiner (OCME) for 13 years, was arrested in 2005 for doling out lucrative contracts to shell computer companies, including some in India.

Between 1999 and 2005, he diverted over $13 million in contracts and purchase orders to those companies. He was assisted by co-accused Rosa Abreu, director of records with the OCME.

He pleaded guilty last October to one count of conspiracy, one count of embezzlement and misapplication of funds and 14 counts of money laundering, according to court documents.

The scam had started before the terror strike on World Trade Centre in September 2001, but really got going after OCME badly needed computer services following the disaster, when the department was given the job of identifying victims through forensic analysis of body parts and other evidence collected at Ground Zero.