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Armed with the rarely applied Tweed Law, a team of young lawyers in the New York attorney general’s office won a criminal plea this month from a top executive for a private security firm that they say defrauded New York by supplying unqualified guards — some convicted of serious crimes — to public places such as Camp Smith in Westchester County, where the state’s Division of Military and Naval Affairs conducts weapons training and stores munitions. Bunce Pierce, senior vice president of the California-based firm headed by Egyptian-born Ousama Karawia, pleaded guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court to a single count of hiring an unregistered security guard. The criminal plea, according to Assistant Attorney General Mark G. Peters, paves the way for civil settlement in New York v. International Protective Services, 02-402799. Under the settlement negotiated with defense lawyers, said Peters, the company would forfeit the right to do business in New York state for five years, and pay $1.1 million in reimbursed fees and penalties. The court action was the latest in a string of accomplishments by the attorney general’s Public Integrity Unit, a statewide squad of 10 lawyers within the Criminal Division charged with keeping state and local governments — and those who work with them — honest. Among the laws they enforce is Executive Law � 63-c, the Tweed Law, named after William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, the corrupt 19th century business entrepreneur and political operative of Tammany Hall fame. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer created the unit in 1999, shortly into his initial term in office. It is the first such unit in state history, Peters said, and so far as he knows, the first of its kind among the states’ attorneys general. “If you believe that government can do tremendous good for people, then one of your first jobs is to make sure it’s run with honesty,” said Peters, 37, chief of the Public Integrity Unit. “Without that, government will never be able to do all the good things it’s capable of doing. “This is a dream job,” said Peters, a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School who was formerly an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell and a staff attorney for Children’s Rights Inc. “Because the unit is new, we’re flexible. We’re not bound by, say, 25 years of baggage. It’s very exciting to create something that comes with a lot of leeway.” Instrumental in the case against International Protective Services was Anne M. Cunningham, 33, who joined Peters’ unit just six months ago. A graduate of Fordham University School of Law, Cunningham was formerly a civil litigator at Berlack, Israel & Lieberman. “This unit is unique, in that it’s civil and criminal litigation,” said Cunningham. “I was a little concerned at first, coming from a civil background, but I would tell any young attorney not to hesitate about [criminal] litigation. It’s so rewarding.” In recent weeks, Peters and Cunningham have worked with Brian Stettin, an assistant attorney general in the program development practice. “We’re a think tank within the [attorney general's] office,” said Stettin, 34, a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. “I had a little room on my plate, and I don’t have a lot of litigation experience — so this is an opportunity for me.” Specifically, Stettin is assisting in a case Peters has brought against the former director of Suffolk County’s Real Estate Division. OTHER SECURITY FIRMS Under separate actions last July and November, Peters and his team won settlements against two other private security firms with state contracts: Paramount Security and Tort Protective Services. The two New York City firms surrendered their business licenses and paid a collective $800,000. In these actions, Peters made use of the Tweed Law, which enables prosecutors to recover fees from state and local government contractors unqualified to collect payment. The security firms were unqualified, prosecutors say, because they failed to register all personnel with the State Department of New York, the agency responsible for criminal background checks of private guards, and because certain guards provided did not meet the state’s heightened experience standards. Beyond reimbursement of fees, the Tweed Law also provides for punitive fines. “I can count on one hand the number of citations brought since World War II,” said Peters of Executive Law � 63-c. “I couldn’t possibly tell you why that is.” The Tweed Law is “another example of something else this office is now using. It’s an extremely powerful tool,” said Peters, referring also to the formerly obscure Martin Act, a statute Spitzer has employed in high-profile stock fraud litigation against Merrill Lynch and other Wall Street brokerages. In addition to the security firm actions, brought as the result of audit complaints by former New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, the Syracuse regional office of Peters’ Public Integrity Unit won a $500,000 settlement last year in a suit against Crowley Foods of Binghamton, N.Y. The suit alleged that Crowley overcharged upstate school districts on milk contracts. Beyond the financial aspect of the settlement, a series of contract reforms were put into place, including simplifying the complex billing processes of government vendors that facilitated overcharges, and the so-called “integrity rider” to future contracts, whereby cheaters would bear the cost of law enforcement. Additionally, Peters filed a $1 million suit last year against a private real estate developer Robert Toussie and the former director of Suffolk County’s Real Estate Division, attorney Allan Grecco. In New York v. Grecco, 02-09384, Peters alleges “disabling conflict of interest that arose from a close, private business relationship between Grecco and Toussie [resulting in] a series of unlawful real estate transactions” whereby land was sold to the county at substantially inflated prices. The suit is pending in Suffolk County Supreme Court, where Grecco’s attorney has filed motion to dismiss. Grecco, meanwhile, has resigned his post. “It would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation,” said his attorney, Harvey Besunder of the Suffolk firm Pruzansky & Besunder. “But afterwards, I would love to talk with you.” As something of a warning, perhaps, Peters said: “We try to pick cases that will have exponential effects that not only resolve the problems in those cases, but which will send a message that a prosecutor is watching.” With such excitement in store for young government lawyers, said Stettin, “What more can you ask for?”

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