Thursday, May 9, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) — A 74-year-old former New York State lawmaker who secretly recorded other politicians in a bid for leniency for her role in a corruption scandal faces up to two years in prison after she pleaded guilty to embezzling money.
Shirley Huntley is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Brooklyn federal court after pleading guilty to mail fraud conspiracy last winter. The Queens Democrat admitted embezzling nearly $88,000 from a state-funded nonprofit she controlled.
Huntley took office in 2007 and lost a re-election bid last year.
"The prosecution of Shirley Huntley ended her political career and devastated her family," her lawyer wrote in court documents. "Despite her downfall, she continues to volunteer in her community as she has done for her entire life."
The attorney, Sally Butler, says Huntley will pay back the money and asked the court to consider her years of good works and service. Among that service included meeting with government officials on corruption involving politicians. She recorded conversations with nine Democrats, including state senators, a city council member and two political operatives.
The names were released Wednesday despite objections by federal prosecutors, who said eight were under investigation.
The names include state Sens. Malcolm Smith and John Sampson, who have already been charged in separate cases with crimes including bribery and embezzlement. They have pleaded not guilty.
Names of the other people secretly recorded were: State Sens. Eric Adams, Ruth Hassel-Thompson, Jose Peralta and Velmanette Montgomery; City Council member Rubin Wills, who was Huntley's chief of staff before he ran for the council in a 2010 special election; former political consultant Melvin Lowe; and Curtis Taylor, a former press adviser to Smith.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn said he could not reveal which one of the nine wasn't under investigation.
Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat who had once been a captain in the New York Police Department, is an outspoken critic of the department's stop, question and frisk policy and testified recently in a federal trial challenging the tactic. Peralta is an up-and-coming Latino leader. Hassel-Thompson and Montgomery are civil rights advocates — Montgomery for those accused of crimes, and Hassel-Thompson for minorities.
The government revealed last week that Huntley had made the recordings. They said in a court filing that the recordings of three of the eight individuals yielded evidence "useful to law enforcement authorities."
A paragraph related to the ongoing investigation of the three elected officials remained sealed. Their names were not released.
Adams said he had not been contacted about any investigation. "I believe deeply in transparency and the pursuit of justice — and that is why I committed 20 years of my life to law enforcement," he said. "I am more than willing to help with any investigation."
Wills said his lawyer was in contact with federal officials and he is not the target of any investigation from Huntley's recordings. "I look forward to continuing the work of the people of southeast Queens that elected me," he said.
Peralta said he was confident authorities will find that he has engaged in no wrongdoing.
Hassell-Thompson admitted that Huntley invited her to lunch in 2012 and that they talked about their health and families.
"At no time — past or present — did we discuss anything inappropriate, improper or illegal," Hassell-Thompson said.
Smith declined to comment.
The others didn't immediately return messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy called the disclosure part of "an extremely trying time in Albany."
"If any charges are brought, the conference will take appropriate action," Murphy said.
Huntley's sentencing follows the arrest of Sampson earlier this week. He pleaded not guilty to embezzlement and other charges. Prosecutors said he tried to sabotage a federal fraud investigation of his law practice by seeking inside information from an employee of the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office.
His lawyer Zachary Carter has insisted the case wasn't in the same category as a recent rash of other criminal cases accusing New York lawmakers of abusing their authority for personal gain or to cheat on campaign finance rules.
Last month, state Assemblyman Nelson Castro, a Bronx Democrat, resigned after admitting he taped colleagues after federal investigators told him he would be charged with perjury in yet another corruption investigation.
Associated Press Writers Michael Gormley and Michael Virtanen in Albany and Jennifer Peltz in New York City contributed to this report.