New York state Senator Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat whose nonprofit group has been under state investigation, was indicted on charges of conspiracy, tampering with evidence and falsifying business records.
Parent Workshop Inc., an organization founded by the senator, funneled public money to an aide and to Huntley’s niece, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said today in a statement. The aide and the niece submitted fraudulent documents to the state to obtain public money from a legislative member item sponsored by Huntley, and pocketed about $30,000, according to the statement.
“The investigation revealed that, after learning of the probe, Senator Huntley personally wrote a template for a false, backdated letter designed to fool investigators into believing that the Parent Workshop had conducted workshops that never took place,” Schneiderman’s office said. “Parent Workshop then submitted this letter to the attorney general’s office in response to a subpoena.”
Huntley is charged with tampering with physical evidence and falsifying business records in the first degree, each a felony carrying a maximum sentence of four years in prison, and conspiracy in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor, Schneiderman’s office said. She pleaded not guilty today at a court appearance in Mineola, New York, Schneiderman’s office said.
Conviction of a felony would result in her automatic removal from office under state law. Huntley, of Jamaica, who was first elected to the state senate in 2007, has vowed to fight the charges.
“Senator Huntley maintains her innocence, believes in our judicial system and will be exonerated of all charges,” her office said in a statement today. “The fact that this indictment against the senator is coming down less than three weeks before the primary election is no coincidence.”
Member items are state grants sponsored by a member of the legislature for a specific purpose, according to the indictment. The state has distributed more than $900 million to more than 20,000 not-for-profit groups since 1999, Schneiderman’s office said.
The aide, Patricia D. Savage, the president of Parent Workshop, and the niece, Lynn H. Smith, who served as treasurer, were indicted in connection with the probe in December. They face as long as seven years in prison if convicted of the charges.
The indictment accuses Savage and Smith of claiming that Parent Workshop would use the funds secured with the member item to hold workshops and counsel parents on the workings of the city’s public school system, according to the statement from Schneiderman’s office.
Savage and Smith never intended to hold such events and instead kept $29,950 that was paid to Parent Workshop by the state, according to the indictment.
Two other suspects, Roger N. Scotland, president of the Southern Queens Park Association, and David R. Gantt, a consultant, were also indicted in December.
Scotland was accused of creating a fake letter for the Southern Queens Park Association to help hide the theft from investigators, and Gantt was accused of falsifying records to make it seem like he was paid in cash for conducting workshops, while not holding any such events.
Savage, Smith and Gantt were scheduled to appear in court in Nassau County today, according to state records. Attorneys representing Savage and Gantt didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Huntley’s indictment.
Smith’s attorney, Howard R. Birnbach, said his client has pleaded not guilty and anticipates a trial sometime around the end of the year. Scotland is apparently a cooperating witness, and may have testified before a grand jury, Birnbach said.
“We look forward to a trial and we’re confident when the facts come out she’ll be completely vindicated,” Birnbach said.
Scotland didn’t immediately return a telephone message seeking comment and nobody answered the phone at the Southern Queens Park Association after normal business hours. Scotland wasn’t named in the new indictment and his case is still pending, said James Freedland, a spokesman for Schneiderman.