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South Brooklyn Assemblymember Pamela Harris indicted on fraud charges

January 9, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Assemblymember Pamela Harris, who represents parts of Bath Beach, Bay Ridge, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Dyker Heights and Seagate, was indicted on fraud and cover-up charges on Tuesday. File photo by Paula Katinas.
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South Brooklyn Assemblymember Pamela Harris, who represents Bay Ridge, Coney Island, Bath Beach and Dyker Heights, was arraigned in federal court on Tuesday for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from government agencies and tampering with witnesses.

Harris is the second person in a row to represent the 46th Assembly District in Brooklyn to have been indicted. Harris replaced Alec Brook-Krasny, who quit the assembly and then was later indicted on health care fraud and bribery charges.

An 11-count indictment was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn as Harris appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Ramon E. Reyes, Jr. Harris was 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 court of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

“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 Richard P. Donoghue, Interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “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. When she learned that law enforcement was investigating her various fraud schemes, she pressured witnesses to lie to the FBI and cover them up.”

A lot of Harris’ work since she was elected in Nov. 2015 has been in aiding the victims of Superstorm Sandy, and as the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office pointed out, she stole money that was meant to help the very victims she purported to help.

“In fact, at a time when many residents in her district were dealing with the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Harris was busy brewing a storm of her own, one that resulted in her receiving significant payouts by the very federal agency charged with helping those truly in need,” Sweeney said.

According to the indictment, between 2012 and 2016, Harris, who is 57-years-old, defrauded various governmental agencies including the City Council, Department of Youth and Community Development, FEMA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, NYC Build it Back Program and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

In total, prosecutors alleged that Harris stole at least $59,000 in various schemes and had construction fraudulently done on her house at taxpayer expense. Her schemes were fairly similar and involved phoney rental apartments, and false damage claims related to Superstorm Sandy.

According to the indictment, Harris allegedly used her position as executive director of a not-for-profit to get City Council to fork over $23,000 in discretionary funding between August 2014 and July 2015 by falsely claiming to use the money to rent a studio space. She submitted a forged lease agreement and diverted the money to her personal checking account.

She committed similar scams to get $11,400 from City Council and got $25,000 from FEMA by falsely claiming that Hurricane Sandy forced her out of her home, while she was an assemblymember, according to the indictment. She also allegedly submitted false documents to FEMA for financial assistance and to have “substantial” construction done on her home.

In Nov. 2013, before she became an elected official, Harris filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn and misrepresented her financial situation at the time, per court documents.

To make matters worse, once Harris was under investigation, prosecutors alleged that she instructed witnesses to lie to FBI agents during the grand jury investigation, which they did.

Harris faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if she is convicted of charges related to making false statements to FEMA. The wire fraud, witness tampering or obstruction of justice charges each carry a punishment of up to 20 years in jail. There is a maximum sentence of five years for the bankruptcy fraud charges.

 


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