City Health Department workers already making six-figure salaries allegedly ripped off thousands of dollars in gift cards purchased with taxpayer money and meant for HIV-prevention programs.
Three staffers from the agency’s Bureau of hepatitis, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections swiped a total of 131 gift cards worth $4,855, which they blew on pizza, iTunes, and Amazon purchases, according to Queens Criminal Court complaints and the city Department of Investigation.
A Health Department spokesman refused to share the employment status of the workers, two of whom were still on the city’s payroll when arrested and charged last week, according to DOI.
A third employee retired before the agency concluded its probe.
“Resources meant to serve the public, to help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, were instead used by public servants to line their pockets,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz told The Post. “Thank you to the Department of Investigation and City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for their work on this case.”
In 2017, then-director of finance administration Mahboob Bari Khan, 63, and fiscal analyst Lisa Burgess-Thomas, 58, handled ordering and distributing gift cards from Amazon, Visa, and Mastercard, which were intended for participants in HIV prevention programs, such as surveys and other research projects.
A Health Department spokesman did not respond to queries about how the collected data is used by the agency.
Khan, who earned $110,754 a year when he retired in 2022, ended up using $2,200 in stolen gift cards to cover his Time Warner Cable bills, in addition to making Amazon purchases and picking up the tab for a staff lunch at Lucky’s Pizzeria in Long Island City, according to the criminal complaints and city records.
Burgess-Thomas, who makes just under $95,000, swiped $1,505 in gift cards and went on shopping sprees at Walmart, Bath and Bodyworks, Amazon, and iTunes, per the complaints and city records.
Another colleague, Stephanie Hubbard, 40, dropped $1,150 on Amazon, despite earning $127,862 annually as an HIV Prevention program planning director, per the complaints and city records.
“When they’re handling cash or the equivalent of cash, are [employees] monitored by camera? Are they subject to extra security precautions?” Bill Hammond, a senior fellow for health policy at the conservative think tank Empire Center, asked about the security policies at the Health Department.
“There are temptations all over the place.”
Health Department Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said trust is critical for public health efforts to be successful.
“Our integrity undergirds everything we do and we cannot allow it to be compromised,” he said.
All three workers were charged with grand larceny and official misconduct, according to the criminal complaints.
If convicted, they could face up to four years in prison.