In the public’s imagination, the classic hate crime is an assault born of animus against a particular ethnicity or sexual orientation, like the case of the Long Island man convicted in April of killing an Ecuadorean immigrant after hunting for Hispanics to beat up.
But in Queens since 2005, at least five people have been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, committing a very different kind of hate crime — singling out elderly victims for nonviolent crimes like mortgage fraud because they believed older people would be easy to deceive and might have substantial savings or home equity.
And this month, Queens prosecutors charged two women with stealing more than $31,000 from three elderly men they had befriended separately. The women, Gina L. Miller, 39, and Sylvia Johns, 23, of Flushing, were charged with grand larceny as a hate crime.
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This approach, which is being closely watched by prosecutors across New York State, has won Queens prosecutors stiffer sentences, including prison for criminals who could otherwise go free, even after draining an elderly person’s savings. Without a hate crime, theft of less than $1 million carries no mandatory prison time; with it, the thief must serve for a year and may face 25.
The legal thinking behind the novel method is that New York’s hate crimes statute does not require prosecutors to prove defendants “hate” the group the victim belongs to, merely that they commit the crime because of some belief, correct or not, they hold about the group.