Three New York City Department of Correction (DOC) officers were arrested for allegedly lying to stay on sick leave for over a year, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Brooklyn resident Steven Cange, 41, Harrison resident Monica Coaxum, 36, and Yonkers resident Eduardo Trinidad, 42, were charged with federal program fraud. The three defendants all work at Rikers Island.
“As alleged, in the midst of an ongoing staffing crisis at Rikers Island, the defendants defrauded New Yorkers by fraudulently obtaining their full salaries while taking over a year of sick leave. These correction officers abandoned their oath to protect inmates and put the safety of their fellow correction officers at risk,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace. “Today’s arrests demonstrate that this Office remains committed to rooting out corruption at Rikers Island and protecting New Yorkers from public officials who steal their tax dollars.”
According to the criminal complaint, Cange allegedly obtained more than $160,000 in salary by being on sick leave from March 2021 to the present. Evidence obtained by law enforcement alleges that though Cange claimed that he suffered from symptoms of vertigo and side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, he was able to work during this time. During his sick leave, Cange allegedly submitted more than 100 fraudulent medical notes to DOC showing that he was at physical therapy or another medical provider, however, records that were subpoenaed from those providers allegedly demonstrate that Cange was not at those appointments. Law enforcement also allegedly observed Cange engaging in normal life activities with no apparent difficulty.
In a separate criminal complaint, Coaxum allegedly fraudulently obtained more than $80,000 in salary by being on sick leave from March 2021 to May 2022, while Trinidad, who is her fiancée, also allegedly fraudulently obtained more than $140,000 in salary by being on sick leave from June 2021 to November 2022. Although Coaxum claimed to suffer from multiple injuries, evidence allegedly shows that she was able to work during this time. During her sick leave, Coaxum allegedly submitted nearly 50 fraudulent medical notes to DOC stating that she had gone to a medical appointment at times law enforcement determined she was elsewhere, however, evidence allegedly shows that on some occasions where Coaxum claimed to be injured and at home, she was traveling and at parties. When approached by law enforcement, Coaxum allegedly admitted to forging some medical documents.
Meanwhile, Trinidad allegedly claimed to be too injured to work for over a year. Although he allegedly went to medical appointments with DOC wearing some combination of a sling, cane, and/or boot, photographic and video evidence during the same period allegedly showed Trinidad doing normal life activities without any difficulty.
“As alleged, the defendants deliberately violated their oath when they participated in an elaborate scheme to defraud our community. The FBI and our partners are committed to disrupting these fraudulent scams and holding the public officials who perpetuate them accountable,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll.
DOI Commissioner Jocelyn E. Strauber said, “As charged, these New York City Correction Officers feigned illness and submitted false medical documentation to take sick leave during a staffing crisis, defrauding the City of New York of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today’s arrests hold these Correction Officers accountable for the shameful dereliction of duty alleged in the Complaints. I thank the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their continuing partnership and efforts to bring to justice those whose misconduct jeopardizes the safety and stability of the City’s jails.”
If convicted, all three defendants face a maximum of ten years in prison.
“These correction officers in no way are a reflection of the hard-working women and men who represent New York’s Boldest. Since day one, I reaffirmed my commitment to hold all staff accountable, especially officers who selfishly abused a privilege and didn’t report to work when their colleagues needed them the most. Their conduct is unacceptable and a violation of their oath and duty to this city and our agency,” said DOC Commissioner Louis A. Molina in a statement.
amNewYork has reached out to the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association for comment.
Updated at 2:05 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2022.