5:34 pm Aug. 27, 2012
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seemed unsure of whether he was making history.
After announcing felony charges against State Senator Shirley Huntley for misappropriating money earmarked for a nonprofit in her Southeast Queens district, the freshman attorney general was asked when was the last time an attorney general filed criminal charges against a sitting lawmaker.
"I think this is the first time," he said, before turning to a cadre of aides standing behind him. "Is this the first time? I think this is the first time a criminal indictment has been brought against a sitting lawmaker."
The Huntley case, according to Schneiderman, is clear-cut. He pointed his finger toward a large computer screen showing a handwritten note on which the words "back date" and "ASAP" were clearly visible.
"We have an independent handwriting expert's analysis," Schneiderman said. "This is Shirley Huntley's handwriting. This was an effort to create a false paper trail."
Huntley is alleged to have steered earmarked money in the state budget to a nonprofit group she founded, called Parent Workshop, which is now run by her aide, Patricia Savage. Huntley's niece who lives with her, Lynn Smith, is the group's treasurer.
According to Schneiderman, the letter is in Huntley's handwriting and was meant to be replicated by the head of a local school, thanking Parent Workshop for holding an event at the school and inviting them back to do another one. Schneiderman says Savage and Smith "pocketed" $29,950 in state funds and never performed the workshops they promised.
In response to a question about the number of state legislators found in recent years to have engaged in wrongdoing, Schneiderman said, "I think what you are seeing is a manifestation of the fact that there are a group of prosecutors in New York now, federal and state prosecutors, that are more committed to public integrity investigations than we've seen in a long, long time. And I think what you're going to continue to see from my office, from our partnership with the comptroller's office and other law enforcement agencies, is a concerted effort to make it clear this sort of conduct will not be tolerated and that anyone who abuses the public trust will be dealt with."
He went on to say, "I believe what you're seeing is more firepower brought to bear on this issue than there has been in the past."
Schneiderman said the Huntley investigation is ongoing and part of a recent collaboration with the state comptroller's office to audit how public dollars are being used. Schneiderman declined to say what prompted investigators to look at Huntley's nonprofit, but an aide who worked on the investigation explained the paper flow.
Legislators request money be earmarked for specific organizations so they can hold events for the public and the nonprofits hold the events and submit paperwork to the Grant Unit in the state's Department of State proving they held the event. The paperwork usually includes sign-in sheets of attendees, receipts for expenses and letters from others organizations that helped put on the event. The Grant Unit then forwards that information to the comptroller's office, which, if there are no red flags, sends out a check. If there is a concern, the comptroller's office and attorney general's office look into it.
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