An Indian-origin former high-ranking officer has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a court in New York for siphoning off government money to the tune of $9 million, most of which was intended to help identify victims of 9/11 terror attacks, and stashing it away in India.
Natarajan R Venkataram, 43, was also ordered to pay $2.97 million in restitution and forfeiture by Manhattan federal court's District Judge Robert P Patterson.
A tearful Venkataram apologised before he was sentenced saying he was "ashamed" to have "terribly failed everyone with my wrong decisions. "I will regret this great loss for the rest of my life," he said.
Venkataram, who was arrested in 2005 for doling out lucrative contracts to shell computer companies, including some from India, had in October last year pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of embezzlement and misapplication of funds and fourteen counts of money laundering, according to court documents.
Venkataram served as a director of New York's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for 13 years.
Between 1999 and 2005, Venkataraman steered more than $13 million in contracts and purchase orders to fictitious companies with the help of co-accused Rosa Abreu, 42, Director of Records at the Office of the Chief Medical Officer (OCME).
The scam had started before the World Trade Tower attacks in 2001 but intensified after OCME developed an acute need for computer services following the September 11 tragedy, when the department was assigned the task of identifying victims through the forensic analysis of body parts and other evidence collected at Ground Zero.