NY Lawmaker Accused of Stealing Aid Designed to Help Superstorm Sandy Victims

Brooklyn Assemblywoman Pamela Harris. Pamela Harris State Assembly 46th District  Facebook

On Tuesday, New York State Assemblymember Pamela Harris was indicted on multiple federal counts of fraud.

While head of a Brooklyn nonprofit between August 2015 and July 2015, Harris allegedly used $23,000 meant to rent a studio for personal use in her checking account, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday. Harris, who represents a district in New York City's Brooklyn borough, also allegedly defrauded a bankruptcy court and falsely claimed to have been forced out of her residence by Hurricane Sandy to get financial assistance, it said.

U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said Harris defrauded the government of tens of thousands of dollars. She continued to live at her Coney Island residence and pocketed the FEMA payments.

This is a breaking news story.

Pamela Harris, 57, from Brooklyn, was charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making false statements, bankruptcy fraud, witness tampering and conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to the New York Daily News.

"When she learned that law enforcement was investigating her various fraud schemes, she pressured witnesses to lie to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and cover them up", Donoghue said.

Between March and May 2017, after Harris learned of the grand jury's investigation into her various fraud schemes, she directed witnesses to lie to FBI agents conducting the probe, which the witnesses did.

Harris, who was elected in 2015, allegedly defrauded City Council, the city's Department of Youth and Community Development, FEMA, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city's Build It Back Program and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of NY.

New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) Commissioner Mark G. Peters described to the charges as being a result of "brazen corruption".

Between that August and the following July, authorities said, Harris defrauded the New York City Council out of nearly $23,000 in so-called discretionary funding by "falsely claiming that the not-for-profit would use the funds to rent a studio space", according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

To establish in bankruptcy court that she could cure any arrears, the indictment says Harris inflated her monthly income by falsely representing to the court that she was getting $1,200 in financial assistance every month from the individual identified as Landlord #2.

Though the future assemblywoman claimed to have rented studio space for CIGG at a cost of $22,800, the indictment says there was no rental agreement and Harris forged a landlord's signature on the paperwork. Harris allegedly used the money for vacations, cruise tickets and even her lingerie bill at Victoria's Secret.

Between July 2015 and January 2017, Harris committed a almost identical scheme-but this time as a sitting Assemblywoman. Prosecutors say Harris did not disclose this account on forms filed with the bankruptcy court that listed her and her husband's combined cash and funds at $2,645. Both statements were false.

Harris' predecessor in the Brooklyn district she was representing, Alec Brook-Krasny, was indicted previous year in connection with producing opioids.

Unrelated to Tuesday's indictment, Brook-Krasny, the former assemblyman whom Harris succeeded in office, faces criminal charges as well.