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Lawmaker charged with pocketing Sandy funds

10 January 2018

A NY state assemblywoman has been indicted on fraud charges after authorities say she falsely claimed Superstorm Sandy forced her from her home.

Pamela Harris was arrested this morning and will be arraigned later today in Brooklyn federal court. Her lawyer declined comment prior to her arraignment.

Between 2012 and 2014, Harris swindled FEMA out of almost $25,000 by falsely claiming to FEMA she had been forced out of her residence by Hurricane Sandy, according to the 11-count indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn.

Harris joined the Assembly in a special election in 2015 and was reelected a year later, but federal prosecutors said she was scheming before she took office when she headed a non-profit group helping kids in Coney Island.

The indictments include two counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of making false statements, two counts of bankruptcy fraud, and one count of witness tampering and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, CBS New York reported.

In 2016, as a state assemblywoman, she submitted those fake documents to the city's Build it Back Program to obtain additional assistance for "substantial construction to her home", the indictment said.

Harris, 57, could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the top count in her 11-count indictment.

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'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, ' US Attorney Richard Donoghue told the Daily News.

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.

U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said in a release that Harris defrauded the government of tens of thousands of dollars. She provided fake lease agreements and receipts, and forged the landlord's signature, said prosecutors. According to court documents, instead of using the money as intended, she diverted the funds to her personal checking account and used the money to pay for personal expenses.

The final scheme described in Tuesday's indictment involves Harris' filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2013 after she owed approximately $60,000 on her mortgage for the Coney Island property.

Just a day before she told FEMA about her Staten Island rental, the indictment says Harris made a different claim to defraud the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Just six months before she submitted her November 13, 2013, petition for bankruptcy with her husband, according to the indictment, Harris opened a new bank account and deposited $10,000 into it that same day.

In April 2017, her predecessor, Alec Brook-Krasny-who resigned in mid-2015-was among 13 individuals indicted for turning three Brooklyn clinics into pill mills that put more than 6.3 million opioids on the black market.

Lawmaker charged with pocketing Sandy funds