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Hackers steal almost $645,000 from school district's bank account

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June 8, 2010

Crime investigators say that the New York City Department of Education was defrauded out of almost $645,000 by Internet hackers who targeted an electronic bank account used to manage petty cash expenditures.

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The person who headed the crime was Albert Attoh, who was sentenced to 364 days in federal prison two months ago after pleading guilty to bank larceny.

He was also ordered to pay more than $275,000 in restitution fees and be on probation for a minimum of 2 years following his release from jail.

The DOE's small item payment process account at J.P. Morgan Chase was supposed to be limited to purchases of less than $500. However, an oversight by some officials allowed electronic transfers of any amount and without any limits, according to investigators who probed the theft.

The hackers were able to perpetrate the scheme for more than 3 years because education officials didn't bother to reconcile account statements on a regular basis.

“It's rather difficult to fully understand how the DOE accumulated so many years of account statements, reflecting hundreds of thousands of public dollars spent to pay bills, but didn't review them until three years later,” the report, which was written by Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District, stated.

“Furthermore, a closer examination would have shown that the charges were not normal school expenses,” the report suggested.

The crime started in October 2003 and only came to the attention of officials in February 2007 when J.P. Morgan-Chase received a tip that someone was trying to pay bills using the DOE account.

In all, over $644,300 was stolen, but less than $129,000 was eventually recovered.

Although near its completion, the investigation is still ongoing authorities said.

According to the report, Attoh provided the account and routing information to others so they could use it to pay student loans and invoices for purchases at Home Depot and other retail outlets.

In return, Attoh demanded cash payments. Because DOE officials failed to block the use of electronic transfers, the account was wide open. All that was required was the account number and the bank routing number.

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Source: New York City DOE.

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