Authorities on Tuesday said a New York state assemblywoman cheated the federal government out of Superstorm Sandy money and New York City out of funds intended for charities, spending some of the proceeds of the crimes on her mortgage, vacations and merchandise.
Pamela Harris, 57, was arrested and faces an 11-count indictment. She allegedly committed the crimes between 2012 and 2016.
Harris, a former correction officer elected as a Democrat in November 2015, represents Bay Ridge, Coney Island, Dyker Heights and other Brooklyn communities,
Her lawyer, Joel Cohen, declined to comment prior to her arraignment, which was expected to occur within hours.
Prosecutors said Harris pocketed $25,000 in federal funds by falsely claiming Superstorm Sandy chased her from her Coney Island residence.
They said she committed other frauds, including cheating the New York City Council out of discretionary funds meant for nonprofits. An obstruction-of-justice charge alleges she convinced others to lie between last March and May after she became aware of a grand jury probe.
According to the indictment, Harris spent some of the proceeds of crimes on personal expenses, including airline and cruise tickets for herself and her spouse, totaling nearly $10,000. The indictment also said she made online payments to several retailers and paid her monthly mortgage.
U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said Harris defrauded the government of tens of thousands of dollars.
“When she learned that law enforcement was investigating her various fraud schemes, she pressured witnesses to lie to the FBI and cover them up,” Donoghue said.
William F. Sweeney, Jr., head of New York’s FBI office, said that “when many residents in her district were dealing with the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Harris was busy brewing a storm of her own, one that resulted in her receiving significant payouts by the very federal agency charged with helping those truly in need.”
Harris had been expected in Albany on Tuesday, the third day of the 2018 legislative session. Many lawmakers first learned about her indictment when they arrived at the state Capitol on Tuesday morning.
“We are just hearing of this. They are very serious changes, and it’s important to let the justice system take its course,” said Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx.
More than 30 lawmakers have left office since 2000 following allegations of corruption or ethical wrongdoing, prompting regular calls for tougher ethics rules in state government. Term limits and new restrictions on campaign contributions and income from side jobs have all been proposed and are likely to be debated again this year, though lawmakers have shown little interest in ambitious reform.
“I’m actually very disheartened to hear that,” Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, said after learning about Harris’ indictment. “That’s not good for anyone.”