Another state Democrat bites the dust
BY SARA GILBERT
New York State Senator Shirley Huntley of Queens was arrested and indicted on Monday, August 27 on charges of conspiracy, tampering with evidence and falsifying business records. Huntley, 74, pled not guilty in court and plans to fight the charges.
Huntley, who represents Jamaica, Laurelton and South Ozone Park in Queens, founded a nonprofit called Parent Workshop in 2006, which according to charges is a sham. Parent Workshop was supposed to help poor parents navigate the New York City school system. She used the nonprofit to funnel almost $30,000 of taxpayer dollars to her aide and niece who were supposedly running programs and workshops through the organization but in reality never did.
The aide, Patricia D. Savage and Huntley’s niece, Lynn H. Smith, are also being charged with stealing funds from a member item sponsored by the senator. In addition, David R. Gantt, a former aide, is also being charged with falsifying records claiming that he was paid in cash for conducting workshops that he never conducted.
Months ago questions about her involvement with certain nonprofit organizations were brought up after Huntley was caught trying to funnel money to Parent Workshop.
According to Assembly member Nancy Calhoun, the case has been in discussion for months now and when Huntley was arrested it was not a surprise. Calhoun is quick to remind that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
But this is not the first corruption case to go to trial, Calhoun admits. “There’s got to be a better system. There needs to be follow ups with organizations, especially those that are not already established, to make sure that the money is going where it’s supposed to.”
Calhoun thinks stricter checks on what organizations are receiving funds, what the money is being used for and who the people involved are will help cut down on misused funds and corruption cases like this one.
“No papers were filed,” said Calhoun. “Someone needs to be checking in to make sure that agencies are legitimate, that they file the correct paperwork and employee information.”
According to Assembly member Kenneth Zebrowski, “it’s completely reprehensible,” assuming that the facts of this case are true, he noted.
“I feel we’ve seen this movie before and there should be a thorough process of checking out all organizations that are receiving grants,” said Zebrowski. “Any time elected officials get involved in these sorts of cases it sickening to me as an elected official and citizen.”
Once Huntley was in office, she authorized a $30,000 grant and later tried to send $125,000 to Parent Workshop.
“Public service is a privilege and a trust that should never be violated,” said Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
The investigation into the case revealed that when Huntley was questioned about the money sent to her nonprofit, she personally wrote a template for a false, backdated letter designed to fool investigators into believing that Parent Workshop had in fact conducted workshops. Parent Workshop submitted the letter to the Attorney General’s office in response to a subpoena.
“Falsifying documents, conspiracy and deliberately tampering with an open investigation are serious crimes,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a press release. “The individuals who schemed to profit at the taxpayers’ expense and cover it up will be held accountable… We will continue to work tirelessly to protect every penny of taxpayer money.”
New York State Senator David Carlucci agrees, “This latest incident further demonstrates that elected officials must be held accountable and not be allowed to abuse the public trust.”
Carlucci said that he ran for his position so that he could help clean up Albany “and put an end to the corruption that has too long plagued our state. It is one of the reasons why I worked to pass landmark ethics reform that strips state officials and legislators from receiving publically funded pensions if they are convicted of wrongdoing.”
Huntley is charged with tampering with physical evidence and falsifying business records in the first-degree, each felony charges with a maximum sentence of four years in prison, and conspiracy in the fifth-degree, a misdemeanor. If convicted, Huntley will automatically be removed from office.
Anyone with additional information into this case and the surrounding issues is encouraged to contact the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-996-4630 or the Comptroller’s Office at 1-888-672-4555 or file a complaint at [email protected] or mail to Office of the State Comptroller Investigations Unit, 110 State Street, 14th floor, Albany, N.Y. 12236.