Bay Ridge

Pamela Harris resigns from State Assembly

Lawmaker indicted on corruption charges

April 3, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Pamela Harris resigned from her seat in the New York State Assembly to prepare her defense in her upcoming trial. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas

Democratic Assemblymember Pamela Harris, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on a slew of corruption charges in January, has resigned in disgrace from her state Assembly seat.

Harris, who was elected in a special election in 2015, represented the 46th Assembly District, a seat that includes parts of Coney Island, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge.

The New York Times, which as the first to report that Harris had decided to resign, said that the indicted lawmaker announced her decision to quit her post in a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday.

The election to determine who will take Harris’ seat in the assembly will likely take place when the normal election cycle comes around in November.

Harris’ resignation is bound to set off a mad scramble of candidates to run for her Assembly seat.

The resignation marks a swift and shocking fall from grace for Harris, who rose from Coney Island civic leader to the New York State Assembly in the span of a few short years.

Harris, 57, a retired Rikers Island corrections officer, was hit with a 11-count federal indictment in January charging her with siphoning off funds meant for Coney Island Generation Gap, a nonprofit youth organization she founded, and using the funds to pay for vacations and personal purchases in stores such as Victoria’s Secret.

She was also charged with defrauding the government by falsely claiming that her Coney Island home had sustained severe damage in Superstorm Sandy.

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Harris 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, according to the indictment.

She allegedly used her position as the executive director of Coney Island Generation Gap to obtain $23,000 in City Council funding by claiming to use the money to rent studio space. She allegedly diverted the money to her personal checking account.

Harris obtained another $11,400 from the City Council and $25,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by claiming that Superstorm Sandy forced her out of her Coney Island home, the indicted alleged.

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.

The witness tampering charge stems from an accusation that Harris instructed witnesses to lie to FBI agents during the grand jury investigation.

“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,” Richard P. Donoghue, interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement at the time of Harris’ indictment.

Her trial is expected to begin in July.

Her lawyer, Jerry H. Goldfeder, told The Times that Harris resigned from office “to fully address her pending case” and devote her energies to her defense.

In a strange twist, Harris is now the second person in a row to represent the 46th Assembly District to have been indicted.

Her predecessor, Democrat Alec Brook-Krasny, resigned from his seat in July of 2015 to take a high-paying job with a medical supply company.

Harris ran for Brook-Krasny’s seat in November of 2015 and won. Brook-Krasny was indicted last year on health care fraud and bribery charges.

Harris faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if she is convicted.

But her fall from grace could give other political figures a chance to rise.

There is no shortage of names being mentioned as possible candidates for the soon-to-be vacant Assembly seat.

Among the Democrats being mentioned is Kate Cucco, a community relations specialist at Maimonides Medical Center who ran against Harris in a Democratic primary for the Assembly seat in 2015 and lost. Cucco is an experienced political aide who served as chief of staff to Brook-Krasny.

Chris McCreight, chief of staff to Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst) has been touted as a possible candidate.

One of the Democrats who is running against Republican state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn) this year, lawyer Andrew Gounardes, has been mentioned as a viable candidate for Harris’ seat.

Dr. Mathylde Frontus, a Coney Island civil leader, contacted the Brooklyn Eagle and confirmed media reports that she is interested in running.

“I am interested in running and using my voice to speak up about the issues affecting my community. It should come as no surprise that the list of potential candidate continues to grow daily given the level of civic involvement which can be found throughout southwest Brooklyn. I think it would be great to have a robust crop of candidates to keep the dialogue going about the long-standing needs of the district,” Frontus told the Eagle in an email.

Frontus, who has lived in Coney Island for 33 years, is the founder of three civic organizations. For many years, she served as the leader of Urban Neighborhood Services, a social services agency. She also founded the Coney Island Coalition Against Violence and the Coney Island Anti-Violence Collaborative.

On the Republican side, former GOP 46th Assembly District Leader Lucretia Regina Potter, who lost to Harris in the general election in 2015, could run again.

John Quaglione, deputy chief of staff to Golden, is also a possible candidate.

Brooklyn Reform Party Chairman Bob Capano said he’s not interested in running. “I am however committed to making the Reform Party a strong factor in this race as the circumstances surrounding her resignation will make our message of cleaning up the corruption capital of the country, that is Albany, even stronger,” he told the Eagle via email.

Only one Republican has been willing to go on the record about a possible run.

Steve Saperstein, who ran against Councilmember Chaim Deutsch (D-Manhattan Beach-Brighton Beach) in 2017 and lost, confirmed to radio hosts Vito Palmeri and Vito DiGiovanni on the “Vito and Vito” show that he intends to run.

 

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