CityLaw Profile: Mark Peters: The Future of DOI Investigation

Mark Peters, Department of Investigations Commissioner.

Mark Peters, Department of Investigations Commissioner.

On January 18, 2014, Mark Peters was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigations. Prior to this appointment, Commissioner Peters was a partner at the law firm of Edwards Wildman, and had earlier served as Chief of the Public Integrity Unit from 2001-2004 and as Deputy Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau from 1999-2001 at the New York State Attorney General’s office under Eliot Spitzer. Commissioner Peters was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the West Side of Manhattan. He attended Horace Mann High School and received his undergraduate degree from Brown University and law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. At Brown, Peters wrote for the daily newspaper and majored in medieval history.

Commissioner Peters sees the role of DOI Commissioner as “an opportunity to not only conduct criminal investigations and prosecutions across a wide range of areas, but also as an opportunity to examine governmental problems and identify ways for government to do better, and become more efficient.” During his testimony before the City Council Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections on January 30, 2014, Commissioner Peters said that the DOI “serves as a powerful force to improve the lives of all New Yorkers” and that DOI “must make sure that government operates in an honest, efficient and ethical manner.”

Commissioner Peters has an extensive history of investigating corruption in government, which Peters believes will be useful in different ways: “Working as a prosecutor was invaluable because at its core this is a prosecutor’s and law enforcement office.” When he was Chief of Public Corruption at the Attorney General’s office, one of Peters’ biggest assets was that he had both civil and criminal jurisdiction. This gave Peters an ability to view cases both criminally and civilly to determine how best to handle the investigation.

As Chief of the Public Integrity Unit, Peters managed the investigation and indictment of senior officials at Soundview Health Center in the Bronx, a case which involved the diversion of over $25,000 in government funds from AIDS and Special Supplemental Nutrition Programs for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to various political campaigns. Peters also led the investigation into the Wallkill, New York police department for petty corruption, civil liberties violations, and harassment. He also managed Attorney General Spitzer’s first predatory lending cases.

As an aid to DOI’s investigations into fraud and corruption, Peters looks to data mapping.  Data mapping uses technology to cross-compare multiple datasets in order to identify patterns that raise red flags, which could not be seen by on-the-ground investigation. Data mapping allows DOI to “root out vulnerabilities and discourage corruption, fraud and abuse before it happens,” Peters says.

To develop a data mapping platform, DOI uses sets of data from hundreds of repositories to compare and identify problem areas. After identifying and evaluating the data sets, DOI works with developers to design the data mapping platform to run the comparisons. Once the program is developed, DOI assesses whether the dataset comparisons identify an appropriately sized pool of target areas. Results that are too large or few would be unhelpful for the purposes of investigation.

DOI has previously used data mapping to root out pension, unemployment, and housing fraud. Peters credits former DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn for using these techniques to identify and catch fraud on the front-end before it resulted in great losses to the City. According to the DOI’s 2013 Fiscal Year Annual Report, DOI worked with the City employee pension system to uncover fraudulent schemes that targeted the public retirement system’s money. On the prevention side, DOI worked to establish a stronger data-matching program that compared pension rolls against national sources on recent deaths, which led to prompt and methodical identification of fraud at the very earliest stages.

DOI will be hiring senior personnel who have experience with data mapping. The City’s budget increased DOI funding, and, as a result, the DOI will hire another 68 positions, approximately a 20 percent increase in staff. Commissioner Peters states that new technology will never supplant the traditional work of investigation. Techniques such as data mapping, however, will allow the DOI to do its work more efficiently.  Commissioner Peters says, “Every time you do it, the next time is faster. You get better at it and better at figuring out how to do it. Even if the platform takes some time to develop, it will still be vastly more efficient. If certain data set comparisons did not yield the right results one year, DOI could tweak the program and the data sets to make sure the right red flags are being identified.”

By: Jennifer Baek (Jennifer is a CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2013).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.