Sometimes it’s not such a good idea to follow in the footsteps of your predecessor.
Assemblymember Pamela Harris, 57, who represents a swath of southwest Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Coney Island, may just have found that out the hard way, having been indicted on 11 counts in federal court on the morning of Tuesday, January 9.
Harris, who allegedly defrauded various government entities of tens of thousands of dollars, has been charged with 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 in relation to a variety of alleged schemes that arose in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Harris has represented the 46th Assembly District since winning a special election in 2015, replacing former Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny, who had stepped down a few months earlier to take a job in the private sector and was subsequently indicted in connection with a sting operation targeting three Brooklyn medical clinics that investigators allege were “pill mills” which illegally prescribed opioid painkillers while also fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for millions of dollars worth of unnecessary medical tests, physical therapy and psychiatric services.
Harris’s indictment, according to Richard Donoghue, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, is related to actions that began in 2012, before she held elective office.
“As alleged in the indictment, the defendant defrauded government agencies out of tens of thousands of dollars in public funds and tried to fraudulently obtain even more,” said Donoghue.
“She conducted her schemes victimizing the federal and New York City governments, and then obstructed a federal investigation into her crimes while a sitting New York State assemblywoman,” and subsequently “pressured witnesses to lie to the FBI and cover [her various fraud schemes] up,” Donoghue alleged.
Among the agencies that Harris allegedly defrauded are the New York City Council, the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the New York City Build it Back Program, and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York.
According to the indictment, between 2012 and 2014, Harris bilked FEMA of almost $25,000 “by falsely claiming…she had been forced out of her residence by Hurricane Sandy.” While, according to the indictment, Harris told FEMA that damage to her house was so bad that she had to seek other shelter, providing the agency with false lease agreements and fake rent payment receipts, she was, in actuality, still living in her Coney Island home., the indictment charges.
Then, in November, 2013, according to the indictment, Harris filed for bankruptcy. While, the indictment charges, she was then getting $1,550 monthly from FEMA, she “told the bankruptcy trustee that she was receiving $1,200 a month in financial assistance from the same landlord she told FEMA she was paying $1,550 a month in rent.”
In addition, the indictment alleges that, between August, 2014 and July, 2015, Harris defrauded the City Council of close to $23,000 in funding provided to the not-for-profit group which she led as executive director. While the money had been allocated to help the organization rent a studio, according to the indictment, Harris used the money for personal expenses, and submitted a forged lease agreement to DYCD, which was administering the allocation.
Then, according to the indictment, in 2016, after she had been elected to the Assembly, Harris provided the Build It Back program with the identical fake documents she had earlier submitted, to garner more financial assistance and “made other false claims in order to persuade Build it Back to pay for substantial construction to her home.”
Finally, between March and May, 2017, Harris is alleged to have told witnesses in a grand jury investigation into her activity to lie to the FBI investigators involved in the probe, which they did, according to the indictment.
If convicted, Harris faces up to 30 years imprisonment on the charge of making false statements to FEMA. The wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, witness tampering and obstruction of justice conspiracy charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. The bankruptcy fraud and other false statements charges each carry up to five years in prison.