STAR Amnesty Program Nets Taxpayer Savings

Rockland County effort becomes catalyst for change at state level

Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe last week announced the results of a sweeping crackdown on STAR program violators and the unique amnesty initiative designed to help offenders avoid criminal charges. The amnesty program yielded significant results: 123 individuals came forward to voluntarily renounce their STAR exemption, saving New York State $432,000. Criminal charges have been filed against three individuals who illegally obtained STAR benefits and failed to renounce their exemption during the amnesty period.

Nissan Hakakian
(DOB 03/21/75) of 7 Balanchine Court, Airmont, New York

Sara Hakakian
(DOB 09/14/74) of 7 Balanchine Court, Airmont, New York

Juan Rollano
(DOB 06/06/48) of 36 Halgren Crescent, Haverstraw, New York

Nissan Hakakian and Sara Hakakian are each charged with:
One count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class “D” Felony
One count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a class “E” Felony

Juan Rollano
is charged with:
One count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class “D” Felony

The probe is ongoing and more arrests are anticipated, with the ultimate goal of insuring full compliance of STAR regulations in Rockland County.

A class “D” Felony is punishable by up to seven years in state prison and a class “E” Felony is punishable by up to four years in state prison.

District Attorney Zugibe said, “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. I am pleased that our proactive efforts in Rockland County have prompted New York State to improve oversight and guidance of the entire STAR program.

In the weeks since the amnesty initiative was announced, state lawmakers drafted a measure to require all property owners to reapply for their STAR certification. The new law, which passed the Legislature and was approved by Governor Cuomo, simplifies the STAR form and allows local assessors and the state to share information for improved monitoring of the tax breaks.

Rockland’s crackdown on violators also led to a greater awareness of STAR guidelines, resulting in a noticeable decrease in enrollments during the first six months of 2013.

Town of Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said, “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. I am pleased our assessor, along with our databases, greatly assisted in tracking down improper exemptions.”

The amnesty initiative followed an intensive investigation aimed at rooting out county residents who were double-dipping their STAR, or New York State School Tax Relief property tax break. Detectives in the Special Investigations Unit uncovered $679,000 in potentially fraudulent claims from 2012 in each of Rockland County’s five towns.

During the amnesty period, which ended April 1, 2013, investigators uncovered a variety of methods by which violators were illegally receiving STAR exemptions:

Landlords were renting STAR properties
Homeowners claimed dual exemptions in other states
Homeowners claimed STAR exemptions on properties which are NOT a primary residence
STAR exemption recipients were deceased

During the probe, a total of 516 locations were identified as having questionable STAR documentation on file with the various towns. Additional scrutiny of these properties resulted in the eventual renunciations of 123 illegal exemptions.