N.Y. Task Force Seeks Laws to Fight 21st-Century Crimes

New York needs to update state laws dating from 1986 to better prosecute white-collar criminals, according to a special task force report released by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

Current laws predate the Internet, social media and e-commerce and can’t keep pace with increasingly sophisticated frauds, Vance said today at New York University’s Center for the Administration of Criminal Law. Proposals include expanding the definition of larceny to cover the theft of software and personal identifying information, and eliminating a requirement that schemes to defraud target more than one victim.

“The Internet has become our 21st-century crime scene,” Vance said, noting that the most recent overhaul of New York’s penal code dates from the invention of Xerox Corp.’s first fax machine.

For example, old definitions of larceny don’t cover theft by duplication, a common means of stealing computer code, Vance said. The task force recommends expanding the definition of “computer material” to let prosecutors target hacking into another person’s private e-mail or webcam, and combat using computers to spy on unwitting victims.

Criminal law in New York State has been mostly unchanged since 1965, and the last notable alterations to white-collar crime enforcement were made in 1986, leaving fraud and corruption laws antiquated, Vance’s office has said.

State Legislature

The task force, convened almost a year ago, includes district attorneys, academics and defense lawyers. Their recommendations will be presented to the governor and the state Legislature for consideration in the 2014 January session. Aside from cybercrime, today’s report targets four main areas: fraud, elder fraud, public corruption and procedural reforms.

Punishment guidelines for fraud should be graduated so that more serious schemes are tied to longer sentences, according to the report. Under current law, a criminal who attempts to defraud victims of $2 will be punished the same as someone who attempts to swindle them of $2,000.

Some of the changes would help combat what the Securities Investor Protection Corp. estimates is $10 billion to $40 billion a year in U.S. investment fraud.

Because New York is home to the third-largest elder population in the U.S., new laws should make it harder for criminals who get “technical consent” to take assets from elderly victims in poor physical or mental health, according to the report.

‘Meaningfully Consent’

Prosecutors should be able to make a case that victims may have been unable to “meaningfully consent,” said Frank. A Sedita III, Erie County district attorney and the task force’s co-chairman.

Public corruption should be subject to stronger anti-bribery measures and a new law of “undisclosed self-dealing by public servants,” according to the task force. That would make it a crime for a public servant to have a secret interest in a government business above a certain threshold, such as owning property through a shell company that’s involved in public business.

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