Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe today announced
three residents have been charged with illegally obtaining STAR benefits and
123 violators withdrew their applications during an amnesty period earlier this year.
Zugibe said the crackdown on STAR program violators resulted in 123 individuals who came forward to voluntarily renounce their STAR exemption, saving New York State $432,000 and three others who failed to renounce their exemption during the amnesty period.
Nissan Hakakian, 38, and Sara Hakakian, 39, of 7 Balanchine Court in Airmont were each charged with one count of Grand Larceny, a class D felony and one count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing, a class E felony. Juan Rollano, 65, of 36 Halgren Crescent in Haverstraw was charged with one count of Grand Larceny, a class D. Conviction on a class D felony can result in a sentence of up to seven years in state prison and up to four years in state prison for a class E felony.
The investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected.
“The steps we’ve taken, including the offer of amnesty, have greatly reduced the number of exemptions provided to “double dipping” residents for multiple homes and other abusive practices,” said Zugibe, noting that there was a significant decrease in STAR enrollments during the first half of 2013.
He said Rockland’s proactive efforts prompted New York State to improve oversight and guidance of the entire STAR program with state lawmakers drafting and passing a measure to require all property owners to reapply for their STAR certification. The new law signed by Governor Cuomo simplifies the STAR form and allows local assessors and the state to share information for improved monitoring of the tax breaks.
“Our partnership with the Rockland County District Attorney helped to ferret out abuse and errors in STAR, which ultimately led to thousands of dollars in taxpayer savings,” said Town of Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence. “I am pleased our assessor, along with our databases, greatly assisted in tracking down improper exemptions.”
The amnesty initiative, which ended April 1, followed an intensive investigation aimed at rooting out county residents who were double dipping their STAR exemptions. The District Attorney’s Special Investigations Unit uncovered $679,000 in potentially fraudulent claims from 2012 in each of Rockland County’s five towns. Detectives found 516 locations with questionable STAR documentation submitted for the property tax breaks through New York State's School Tax Relief property tax relief program.
Investigators found violators who were illegally receiving STAR exemptions included:
- Landlords renting STAR properties
- Homeowners claiming dual exemptions in other states
- Homeowners claiming STAR exemptions on properties, which were not their primary residence
- Claims under the names of recipients who were deceased
STAR is New York's version of a homestead exemption or a property tax discount for an owner-occupied primary residence. The state provides homeowners with two levels of partial exemptions from school property taxes:
Basic STAR is available for owner-occupied primary residences where the homeowners' and their spouses’ income is $500,000 or less. Under the basic exemption, $30,000 is taken off the assessed value of the primary residence for the purposes of school taxes.
Enhanced STAR provides an increased benefit for the primary residences of senior citizens, age 65 and older, with qualifying incomes. The Enhanced option exempts the first $63,300 of the full value of a home from school taxes as of the 2013-14 school tax bills. To be eligible for Enhanced STAR, the combined income of all owners and their spouses must be $79,050 or less.
Only the homeowner applying for STAR must use the property as a primary residence. Individuals can only have one primary residence. For information about how to correct a STAR application and make restitution, contact the local tax assessor’s office or visit www.tax.ny.gov for additional information