Lawmaker Fraudulently Took Cash Meant for Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief, Prosecutors Say

Ivan Schwartz
January 10, 2018

A NY state lawmaker was charged with 11 counts of fraud and obstruction of justice, accused of cheating government agencies out of tens of thousands of dollars, including hurricane relief money, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

While her constituents struggled with the hurricane's devastation, "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", said FBI New York field office head William Sweeney Jr.

She faces two counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of making false statements, two counts of bankruptcy fraud, one count of witness tampering and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Harris is the second person in a row to represent the 46th Assembly District in Brooklyn to have been indicted.

Harris could face 30 years in prison if she is indicted on just the top count in her 1-count indictment, according to documents.

She submitted fake lease agreements to FEMA that she had allegedly entered into with the landlord of the Staten Island residence, as well as fraudulent rent payment receipts, the indictment said.

The 57-year-old lawmaker, first elected in 2015, is accused of fraudulently accepting $25,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and failing to disclose it during her recent bankruptcy proceedings.

It notes that Harris and her husband lived in Coney Island in fall 2012 when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Northeast.

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To get CIGG's operations subsidized by the city, according to the indictment, Harris billed her nonprofit as a mentorship program that connected teens and young adults living in Coney Island to media arts.

"In the weeks immediately following her deposit of Check 377 into her personal checking account, Harris used the funds held in the account to make online payments to several retailers, including Victoria's Secret and Kohl's, to pay the monthly mortgage payment on the Coney Island Residence, and to purchase airline and cruise tickets for herself and her spouse totaling almost $10,000", the indictment states.

She instead diverted the cash into her checking account to cover personal expenses in 2015, the indictment charged.

And in November 2013, she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn. She also allegedly submitted false documents to FEMA for financial assistance and to have "substantial" construction done on her home.

Meanwhile, according to the indictment, Harris "concealed financial assets from the bankruptcy court to avoid having the assets used to pay her creditors".

Her attorneys said in a statement that Harris, who represents a district in New York City's Brooklyn borough, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Authorities said her looting of government funds went on from 2012 through 2017.

Harris' office did not immediately respond to a Law&Crime request for comment.

Other reports by GizPress

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