Protecting Workers and Holding Corporations Accountable
I am running for District Attorney to ensure that the criminal legal system works for everyone, and not just for the rich and the powerful. Over the last two decades, Manhattan has become much more unequal, with spiraling housing costs and the widest income gap between the highest and lowest earners in the country. As a public defender, I have seen how the criminal legal system perpetuates these inequities, creating one set of rules for powerful elites, and another for the poor, people of color and other vulnerable members of our community.
As District Attorney, I will hold powerful corporate actors to account. Manhattan is home to many of the world’s richest companies, and many more trade on our New York Stock Exchange. As a result, the Manhattan DA’s office has a vital role to play in cracking down on corporate and white-collar crime.
Yet, the current DA’s office has pulled its punches against companies and their executives, including abandoning a promising fraud investigation against the Trump Organization.
I will not be intimidated by these powerful corporate actors. My office will immediately take steps to expand prosecutions of corporate malfeasance and other white-collar crime, as well as to make these prosecutions more transparent and accountable to the public.
Defending labor rights by creating a Worker Protection Unit
New York State law protects workers from employers who violate minimum wage laws, withhold pay, maintain unsafe working conditions, or retaliate against employees who exercise their labor rights. Employees have the right to organize and testify or file a complaint against their employer without fear of retribution or retaliation. The current Manhattan DA has not done nearly enough to defend those rights. Many workers suffer from wage theft and unsafe working conditions. Unsafe working conditions range from asbestos, lead, or lack of heating in the workplace to sexual abuse. Although it is illegal for employers to punish employees for bringing complaints — and although these labor rights apply to all workers, regardless of their immigration status — many workers are concerned about retaliation from employers or even immigration authorities if they come forward.
Recent studies have found that wage theft is a substantial problem in New York. One study of low wage workers found that 21% of workers surveyed were paid less than minimum wage, and more than half were underpaid by more than $1 per hour. Employers steal approximately $965 million from New Yorkers each year just by paying people below minimum wage — which is only one of several forms of wage theft. Estimates suggest that as many as 2.1 million workers in New York State are impacted by wage theft each year. In the construction industry, which has seen increasing rates of fatality and injury in recent years, 83% of fatalities occur in non-union sites, which shows that lives are saved when workers are able to advocate for themselves without fear of retaliation.
The Manhattan DA has not done enough to protect workers. In recent years, the DA’s office has not publicly announced a single wage theft or labor rights prosecution publicly. Furthermore, the DA’s office does not provide any public instructions about how New Yorkers can safely report such offenses.
As District Attorney, I will establish a dedicated Worker Protection Unit to work closely with community organizations and labor unions to combat labor violations. The Unit will be tasked with proactively combating issues of wage theft and unsafe working conditions. It will be staffed with lawyers, investigators, and community liaisons. The Unit will thoroughly investigate corporations and industries suspected of engaging in wage theft, and respond aggressively to ensure that all workers are given their due and treated with respect. When prosecuting corporations, and in particular large corporations, we will seek restitution for workers who have been denied their rightful pay or wronged in other ways.
The Worker Protection Unit will include a liaison for workers to securely and privately report suspected violations to the DA’s office. This will allow us to gather information about employers that are suspected of labor law violations, and to investigate these companies directly, rather than requiring all workers to expose themselves to possible retaliation after by bringing formal complaints. We will work closely with our counterparts at the Department of Labor who handle individual formal complaints, while taking this proactive approach to identifying and prosecuting corporations who are engaged in systematic misconduct.
It is important to note that taking workers’ rights seriously does not mean that I will take an overly punitive, carceral approach. In keeping with my overall mission of decarceration, I will never aim to lock more people up. Instead, I will always aim to use the power of the District Attorney’s office to raise industry-wide standards of employee treatment, rather than simply punishing individual bad actors. In the case of large corporations, I will use aggressive prosecution to deter worker mistreatment and recoup losses that workers have suffered.
I also approach this work with a recognition that some perpetrators of wage theft are small business owners, who may also face potential immigration consequences if they are prosecuted, or business closures that will devastate lives and livelihoods. Rather than risk these consequences, I will always take a nuanced approach to these cases, recognizing the different landscapes that small and large business owners face. For example, I will advocate for legislative changes that require business owners to prove compliance with fair labor laws when they apply or reapply for operating licenses, and to increase city and state financial assistance for small businesses so that the survival of a business does not come at the cost of mistreating employees.
Securing affordable housing
Affordable housing is a major policy challenge for the city. The lack of affordable housing drives economic inequality in New York. Mayoral administrations have tried to address this crisis by offering public subsidies to private developers to build more affordable housing units. Over 71% of the public subsidies for affordable development in New York City go to private, for-profit companies, while non-profits account for just 29% of these construction deals, and for-profit developers typically receive more generous payments from the city. Many of these companies are simply not delivering what they promised, with less than half of the affordable units that have been developed serving the lowest income groups who most urgently need housing, and who represent over 40% of the city’s population.
The DA’s office has an important role to play in holding private real estate development companies accountable and ensuring that public subsidies actually produce the affordable housing that is so desperately needed in New York. To accomplish this, I will create a dedicated Affordable Housing Task Force within the DA’s office which will protect affordable housing.
Developers with public subsidies commit to maintain affordability for a defined period of time. Unfortunately, there have been several recent instances of developers engaging in fraud or larceny to avoid providing the requisite amount of affordable housing, or skirting affordability requirements in other ways. As DA, I will take a proactive approach, prosecuting any company participating in these tax incentive programs that engages in fraud or other criminal violations in an attempt to fulfil the terms of their agreement.
There are over 200,000 such units whose affordability requirement will lapse in the next 15 years. The city has recently introduced policies to extend these affordability periods, but these apply only to a small percentage of units. I will also be a fierce advocate for legislative action to renew and tighten affordability requirements, rather than allowing such a large percentage of our housing supply to become unaffordable. Housing instability is linked to cycles of incarceration and recidivism, and research has shown that access to stable housing is an effective way to break those cycles. Fighting to provide more affordable housing in Manhattan is one of the ways that my administration will work to proactively reduce crime and make our city safer.
Finally, my office will relentlessly pursue real estate companies that buy affordable buildings to rent out, only to engage in destructive practices – for example disruptive renovations – in order to force out tenants in need of affordable housing, and convert the buildings into luxury accommodation. The current DA’s office has allowed such companies, including those managed by the family of Jared Kushner, to get away with such abuse of our affordable housing regime. These offenses constitute blatant harassment, and will not be tolerated when I am Manhattan District Attorney. I will prosecute such companies, while advocating for the city to remove the ability for such companies to act as landlords.
Protecting other forms of public investment
In addition to real estate fraud, my office will tackle an array of fraud and breach of contract issues related to public investment to ensure that public investments are truly invested in our local communities. This does not mean prosecuting individuals for allegations of low-level “welfare fraud,” as these types of prosecutions contribute to the criminalization of poverty and often cost far more to investigate than the actual fraud itself. However, I will investigate and prosecute corporations that abuse public investments to fraudulently increase their own profits. Prosecuting these cases will allow New Yorkers to recoup millions of dollars that should be invested in our communities, and will help restore faith that public spending benefits real New Yorkers.
As an example, over the past year, the city and state governments have invested new taxpayer dollars into supporting our health care workers as they fight the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included allowing health care providers to enroll on an emergency basis in state health care services like Medicare and Medicaid, to expand the number of doctors and nurses available to elderly and low-income patients at this crucial time. It is vital to ensure that providers receiving state-funded medical funding are providing appropriate care to patients. As DA, I will ensure that public funding allocated to support healthcare needs truly helps people, not corporations. When health care providers (including large for-profit hospitals) misrepresent the care they are giving in their Medicare and Medicaid paperwork, these distortions harm patients, who have the erroneous billings listed on their own records for care they did not receive. This is a form of fraud that has long affected elderly and otherwise vulnerable patients.
My office will investigate any allegations of corporations misusing public funds, and prosecute any violations that we uncover, in areas including public transit, Health and Human Services, and more. When organizations and corporations conduct fraud, waste, and abuse of public investment, it can quickly result in large sums of money taken away from the many needs of our city. When a road construction company defrauds city investment, not only do New Yorkers not get the roads they paid for but those are funds that could have gone to provide social services in other sectors as well. Our city has many needs, and we can’t adequately provide for all of them without rigorous work to combat fraud, waste, and abuse by organizations and corporations. The public deserves assurance that public investments are reaching the people of New York, not lining the wallets of the wealthy.
Fighting tax evasion and financial crime
With many of the world’s richest companies headquartered in New York, operating in New York or trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the Manhattan DA’s office has a vital role to play, alongside the New York State Attorney General and relevant federal authorities in prosecuting financial crime. We will work closely with these regional partners to identify businesses that are underreporting or misrepresenting their liability for New York sales tax, corporate income tax, and payroll tax and to undertake prosecutions for tax crimes that fall within our jurisdiction Amidst the current covid-19 pandemic, with unprecedented layoffs across many industries, and many workers telecommuting from around the country, we will particularly focus our attention on payroll taxes, to ensure that employers are continuing to meet their tax obligations to the state.
We will also work closely with state and federal authorities to take a more proactive approach to prosecuting other financial crimes, including violations of US sanctions or money laundering by criminal organizations. These cases, which are of vital significance to public safety and national security, are often sensitive and rely on individuals inside organizations willing to come forward with evidence of abuse. Our office will take steps to establish a secure liaison for whistleblowers to disclose evidence of such abuses, so that we can aggressively prosecute these crimes, while working closely with our regional partners to ensure that those who come forward can do so safely and without concern for their anonymity.
A Transparent approach to prosecution
I strongly believe that the District Attorney, like any elected official, must be accountable to the public and transparency is crucial for accountability. I recently released a thorough Data Transparency policy, detailing the measures I will take as District Attorney to increase the transparency of the office. Manhattanites need to know that their DA is holding powerful people to account, not cutting deals behind their back — real transparency about what corporate malfeasance cases and white-collar crimes the DA’s office prosecutes, and their outcomes, is the only way to make that happen.
- I will create a Worker Protection Unit to seek out and prosecute cases in which workers are denied wages or mistreated at work. The Unit will include community liaisons, who will open channels of communication with workers and advocacy groups so that our office does not miss important cases.
- Under my leadership, the DA’s office will hold real estate companies accountable when they engage in fraud or larceny in an effort to evade affordable housing requirements.
- My office will prosecute cases of tax evasions and other white collar crimes, so that the wealthy and powerful are truly held accountable.
- I will ensure that public investments are used to truly benefit the public, not to feed corporate coffers
- I will be truly transparent about the corporate malfeasance and white collar crime cases that my office takes on, so that New Yorkers know exactly how cases are being handled.
 Sommeiller, Estelle and Mark Price, “The new gilded age: Income inequality in the U.S. by state, metropolitan area, and county,” Economic Policy Institute, June 2018, https://www.epi.org/publication/the-new-gilded-age-income-inequality-in-the-u-s-by-state-metropolitan-area-and-county/.
 NYS Labor Law § 198-a outlines criminal penalties for wage theft. NYS Labor Law § 27, along with several other sections, covers workplace safety. NYS Labor Law § 198 outlaws retaliation.
 NY State Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Laws, https://labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/laborstandards/workprot/lshmpg.shtm. See also Department of Labor Fact sheet, “Employers cannot retaliate against you for complaining about labor law violations,” https://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/factsheets/pdfs/P706.pdf;.
 For workplace safety, see NYS Labor Law § 27; For sexual abuse see: NY Penal Code § 130.52 and https://www.ny.gov/combating-sexual-harassment-workplace/employers#:~:text=New%20York%20State%20Labor%20Law,and%20share%20with%20their%20employees.
 Bernhardt, Annette et al., “Working Without Laws: A Survey of Employment and Labor Law Violations in New York City,” https://s27147.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/WorkingWithoutLawsNYC.pdf.
 Cooper, David and Teresa Kroeger, “Employers Steal Billions from Workers’ Paychecks Each Year,” Economic Policy Institute, May 10, 2017,, https://www.epi.org/125116.
 “Coming Up Short: The State of Wage Theft Enforcement in New York,” Make the Road New York and the Center for Popular Democracy, https://maketheroadny.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Coming-Up-Short_-The-State-of-Wage-Theft-Enforcement-in-NY-4_8_19.pdf.
 “NYC Vital Signs: Fatal Injuries among New York City Construction Workers,” https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/survey/construction-fatalities.pdf.
 Obernauer, Charlene, “Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State,” NYCOSH, https://nycosh.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/2020-Deadly-Skyline-Report.pdf.
 Sosa-Kalter, Stephanie, “Maximizing the Public Value of New York City-Financed Affordable Housing,” Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, October 2019, https://anhd.org/report/maximizing-public-value-new-york-city-financed-affordable-housing.
 Sosa-Kalter, Stephanie, “Maximizing the Public Value of New York City-Financed Affordable Housing.”
 “Developers to Pay More Than $613K for Flouting Rent Stabilization Requirements,” New York Apartment Law Insider, November 2018,
 Sosa-Kalter, Stephanie, “Maximizing the Public Value of New York City-Financed Affordable Housing.”
 “Criminal Justice and Housing Fact Sheet,” Opportunities Start at Home, https://www.opportunityhome.org/resources/people-prior-records-encounter-many-housing-obstacles/.
 See, for example: Maslin Nir, Sarah, “Notorious Landlord Is Sentenced to a Year in Jail,” The New York Times, October 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/nyregion/steven-croman-landlord-sentenced-rikers.html.
 See, for example: “Owners of Adirondack Medical Transport Companies Held Accountable For Multi-Million Dollar Medicaid & Workers’ Compensation Frau,” Office of the Inspector General, February 2020,
https://ig.ny.gov/news/owners-adirondack-medical-transport-companies-held-accountable-multi-million-dollar-medicaid. Also: “Pilgrim Psych Center Associate Director of Operations Arrested for Defrauding Empire Plan of More Than $132k by Submitting False Claims Under Wife’s Name,” Office of the Inspector General, October 2020,
 “COVID-19 Response,” New York Department of Health, https://www.emedny.org/info/ProviderEnrollment/COVID19/.