Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, is renewing her call to end the system of lawmakers issuing taxpayer-funded grants to community groups in light of yesterday’s indictment of Sen. Shirley Huntley, D-Queens, a close aide to the senator and Huntley’s niece for alleged misuse of the funds. Galef said she has never accepted member items because she believes there is a lack of fairness and transparency in how they are given out.
“Misused member items waste taxpayer dollars and create doubt of the entire system. I believe that member items should be permanently eliminated from the New York State budget.” Galef said in a statement. “If that does not have the support it needs to pass, I think that common sense reforms would greatly improve the system to make certain greater protections are in place to stop legislators from giving member items to groups they are connected to and to ensure recipients will not abuse these funds.”
Galef has introduced legislation since 2010 to eliminate member items—legislative pork—in the budget. . Her new bill would require fair distribution of funds in each house. They are currently largely controlled by the majority party in the Senate (Republicans) and Assembly (Democrats). The governor also has received funds to distribute. A number of lawmakers and staff members have faced criminal charges in connection with member items in recent years.
Her bill would also prohibit distribution of funds when a conflict of interest exists between the legislator or the governor designating the member item and the potential recipient. Each legislator or governor would have to sign a conflict of interest form; state agencies providing funding for the grants would have to evaluate recipients’ spending; and recipients of $50,000 or more would have to file final reports on their spending with the state. Grants would have to be listed separately and apart from the state budget so each could be scrutinized.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an indictment yesterday that charges Huntley with falsifying business records, conspiracy and tampering with their investigation into the theft of $29,950 in member-item money. The funds were funneled to a sham not-for-profit—Parent Workshop Inc.—that didn’t provide services to the public, according to Schneiderman and DiNapoli.
A close aide to the senator, Patricia D. Savage, and the senator’s niece, Lynn H. Smith, allegedly submitted fraudulent documents to the state to obtain the taxpayer funding and pocketed it instead of providing promised programs. Each is charged with multiple felony counts of third-degree grand larceny and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. The maximum sentence for one county of third-degree grant larceny is 2-1/3 to 7 years in prison.
Huntley is alleged to have written a template for a false, backdated letter in an attempt to convince investigators that the group had conducted workshops. The letter was submitted to Schneiderman’s office in response to a subpoena. She is charged with the felonies of first-degree tampering with physical evidence and falsifying business records, and the misdemeanor of fifth-degree conspiracy. Each felony has a maximum sentence of 1-1/3 to 4 years in prison. Huntley would be removed from office automatically if she was convicted of a felony.
A fourth defendant, David R. Gantt, is charged with four counts of first-degree falsifying business records and one count of fifth-degree conspiracy for allegedly falsifying records to claim he was paid in cash for conducting workshops as a consultant.