By definition, the city’s Department of Investigation tends to keep a low profile in its day-to-day operations.
So it was uncharacteristic last week when the department touted a record year for investigations and enforcement in the fiscal year ending June 30.
And DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, now in her 10th year in the post, was in a mood to brag about her staff in a statement issued by her office.
“This fiscal year the DOI closed more cases, made more arrests and recovered more funds than last fiscal year, all of which is a testament to the tenacious work of DOI’s team of investigators, rooting out fraud, protecting taxpayer funds and ensuring that corruption is exposed and stopped,” Gill Hearn said.
The department arrested 806 individuals last year, up from 790 the year before and an increase of 195 percent since 2002, when DOI made 273 arrests. It also marked the fourth consecutive year that the department racked up a record number of arrests.
The largest financial recovery by far was the $506 million settlement reached with the CityTime payroll contractor.
A DOI spokesman said the department has worked to make people more aware that they are available to receive complaints of fraud, corruption and other cases, through programs such as presentations to city employees and contractors.
The spokesman said the CityTime recovery, and the vast amount of money returned to the treasury tfor this fiscal year is a stark example of how their work affects the average resident or business owner.
The office took more than 12,500 complaints, the majority from city employees, members of the public and law enforcement.
They closed more than 1,300 cases, up 140 from the previous year and up 58 percent since 2002.
Other notable cases included the uncovering of $2.6 million in fraud at the Kings County Public Administrator’s Office; the arrests of mobile food vendors who filed false license applications to avoid paying more than $700,000 in fines; and the convictions of two guards and eight inmates at Rikers Island in connection with the death of an 18-year-old inmate in 2008.
As for what the numbers and reported progress means to Queens residents and business owners, Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said any press release from a government agency needs to be treated with some skepticism.
“Let someone else tell me how well an agency is doing,” he said, citing his own decidedly mixed experiences with the DOI in the past. He said the normal citizen who reports suspicious activity can feel as if the deck is stacked against him.
“Do higher numbers mean they are doing their jobs better or that there is just more corruption?” Holden asked. “If they are doing their jobs — and this is their job, what they get paid to do, root out corruption — great. If arrests are up in record numbers, if they are out there encouraging and protecting whistleblowers, great.”
But Queens, he said, always seems to be ground zero for corruption in the city. He cited the recent finding of an investigation into the Willets Point development plan by the state attorney general that found local groups, including one headed by former Borough President Claire Schulman, engaged in illegal lobbying practices.
“This could just be the tip of the iceberg,” Holden said. “You can just look at those numbers in so many ways.”