BY CLARISSA SOSIN
It wasn’t until she read her statement to the court that former South Brooklyn Assemblymember Pamela Harris began to cry. It started with a waver in her voice, her head bowed down over a piece of paper as she read her account of the crimes.
Harris, 57, who represented portions of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Brighton Beach, Sea Gate and Coney Island, pleaded guilty in federal court to four out of the original 11 counts on the indictment on Tuesday, June 12.
She appeared in front of United States Magistrate Judge Robert Levy and admitted guilt to two counts of wire fraud, one count of making false statements to FEMA, and one count of witness tampering.
Sniffing periodically as she read, she described how she falsified applications for discretionary funds from the New York City Council and then wired those funds to her personal bank account. She recounted how she lied about living with her twin sister on Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy to receive disaster money from FEMA.
She paused part way through her statement, saying “pardon me” to the judge, before telling the court how she told her sister to lie to the FBI when she found out she was under investigation.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Harris defrauded the New York City Council of $45,600 total and FEMA of approximately $25,000 between 2012 and 2017. She faces a maximum of 30 years in prison for making false statements to FEMA, and a maximum of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud and witness tampering charges.
Among the other agencies that Harris had been charged with defrauding are the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), 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.
Harris, a Democrat, succeeded former Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny, winning a 2015 special election that was held after Brook-Krasny, also a Democrat, stepped down to take a job in the private sector.
The latter was indicted after stepping down 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.
In a statement given out after the hearing, Harris’s attorneys Joel Cohen and Jerry Goldfeder wrote that they hoped Judge Jack Weinstein, the judge assigned to sentencing, would be lenient in his sentencing. They emphasized that none of the charges were related to Harris’s time as an assemblymember and they wrote that she “admitted her guilt in an effort to move on with her life.”
Harris is set to appear in court for her sentencing on Sept. 26 at 10:30 a.m.
Additional reporting contributed by Helen Klein