Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Gambino family boss owed refund from Verizon Wireless

For years, Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers, and as many as 6,914 other customers, have never claimed refunds due them from Bergdorf's. General Motors has been in hock to Rupert Murdoch for nearly a decade. Russia's mission to the United Nations is still hoarding unredeemed gift certificates from BJ's Wholesale Club.

Madonna has never cashed at least two paychecks from the Walt Disney Company and Warner Music. "So much for her being called the Material Girl!" Madonna's publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said.

These are just a few names culled from as many as 31 million owners of accounts held by New York State as unclaimed property - accounts surrendered by banks, insurers, utility companies and others that said they had tried but failed to find the rightful owners of deposits, dividend checks, back wages, rebates and other forgotten funds, which have grown to a record $13.3 billion.

More than $700 million from abandoned and dormant accounts flooded into the state in the last year alone.

The potential windfall from misplaced money stretches well beyond New York. Nationwide, states hold more than $62 billion - more than the individual general fund budget of all but California. The District of Columbia's unclaimed property database even includes a "Barrack Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."

"Is this your name?" the office's website asks, when the search result is clicked. "Do you live or have you lived at the address listed?" "If you can answer yes," you may be able to claim the more than $100 due you from General Electric.

In New York, where the state comptroller, Thomas P DiNapoli, returned $422 million to owners last year, the unclaimed property fund has been around since the 1940s. Five years ago it stood at $9.9 billion, and its remarkable growth is a reminder of people's laxity (or the vicissitudes of the postal system), the redefinition of what constitutes a trifling amount of money and the fact that businesses are much more dogged in hounding deadbeats than in tracking down creditors.

After all, if they cannot find Madonna and President Obama, imagine how hard they will look for you.

Generally, banks, insurers and other companies and government agencies are supposed to try to notify account holders by mail, then publish their names in local newspapers, before surrendering dormant accounts after two to five years to the comptroller's office, which publicises the fund online and at public events like county fairs.

The money can be claimed without charge at any time, though most ends up transferred to the state's general fund.

"They're required to make an effort," DiNapoli said of the institutions that report them. "I guess it's fair to say it's not the most efficient way to recover the money."

In New York alone, the number of owners of unclaimed accounts is staggering: at last count, 471,181 reported by Metropolitan Life, 457,441 by the state's own Department of Taxation and Finance, 109,721 by Verizon Wireless, 83,666 by Consolidated Edison, 33,745 by PayPal, 22,452 by Tiffany & Company and 19,165 by Amway, the home-care products marketer, including 396 unredeemed gift certificates that appear to belong to a Long Island couple, Corey and Dolores Jones.

"I own an independent distribution through Amway," Jones said, adding that he intended to find out why so many gift certificates in the couple's name were unclaimed.

Unclaimed accounts include wages, safe deposit box contents, estate proceeds, rebates, and utility and rent security deposits.

They are often unclaimed because people die, move without leaving a forwarding address, neglect to claim a final paycheck or forget about a security deposit they paid or even a bank account they opened. DiNapoli himself almost lost one of those, a savings account he opened as a high school student and has kept for sentimental reasons.

While half the accounts hold less than $100, the biggest individual payout, in 2008, was $4 million from a stock brokerage account. The largest single account that remains unclaimed is worth $1.7 million. In that case, the comptroller's office took the unusual step of trying to find the owner, but it failed. Before paying a claim, the state verifies that the claimant's name, address and Social Security number match the original owner's.

Gov Andrew M Cuomo is not on the list, but his father and some siblings are, as are the New York State and City budget directors. So is Speaker Sheldon Silver of the State Assembly, and Dean G Skelos, the State Senate Republican leader, along with more than one indicted state legislator.

Michael B Mukasey, who served as attorney general under President George W Bush, is still owed a paycheck from Columbia Law School, where he taught until 2007. "One of the things I taught," Mukasey recalled a bit sheepishly, "was the importance of keeping track of things in preparing for trial."

Other accounts are listed in the names of Sean J Combs; Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton; the Rev Al Sharpton; Bernard L Madoff's sons; the Dalai Lama; Bruce Springsteen; Anna Wintour of Vogue (an American Express and a Bergdorf's credit); William Thompson, a former city comptroller and mayoral candidate (the balance on a gift certificate for golf clubs); and Domenico Cefalu, who has been identified as head of the Gambino crime family (a Verizon Wireless refund).

The Donald J Trump does not appear, but companies associated with him do, prompting Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, to remark: "We get checks in the mail; they get processed no matter how big they are. We don't overlook checks. We take every check seriously."

In contrast, when asked about some Rockefeller-named accounts, Fraser P Seitel, a family spokesman, said: "The estates of both Nelson and Laurance did an exhaustive unclaimed property search at the time of their deaths. These reported outstanding claims are probably just small accounts, which most likely would return the estates less money than they'd have to pay out for the legal time involved in reclaiming them."

However, the writer Tom Wolfe was ecstatic when he was informed that he had three unexpected debtors: Best Buy, the State of Georgia and The New York Times Company (apparently a paycheck from the 1980s).

"For years I have scanned those four-point-type lists of uncashed checks and come up empty," Wolfe said. "Now, a decade after I give up the search, in the proud mood of someone's who's finally turned real after a fool's lifetime playing the numbers, my number comes up, and I'm oblivious of it. Makes me feel like a kid again."

Oliver Sacks, the sometimes absent-minded neurology professor and author, is owed an insurance refund. "Actually some years ago, I forbade Oliver opening the mail himself, as I used to find too many checks he overlooked in the discarded envelopes," his assistant, Kate Edgar, said. "He's fundamentally not that interested in money, and I suppose if Empire, whoever they are, owe him money, it's my fault."

Public agencies, from villages to the United Nations, are also owed money. New York City regularly reviews the list and claimed almost $1 million last year, but many agencies and jurisdictions are much less diligent; there are 78 unclaimed accounts held in the name of the Bronx county clerk, and 53 for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Despite New York's reputation as a high-tax state, sometimes the government can't even give money away. Among those with unclaimed accounts is the conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who has described the state, which owes her money, as a "Pottersville" - the evil twin of Bedford Falls from "It's a Wonderful Life."

Alluding to the investigation of missing emails from an Internal Revenue Service official whom Republicans have accused of improper handling of conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status, Ms. Coulter said, "I think the I.R.S. owes me money, too, but apparently some of their records were lost."



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