Sunset Park

After staffer scandal, progressives demand answers from Sunset Park assemblyman

August 15, 2019 Kelly Mena
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) speaks during a public forum on climate change on Monday in Albany. Nearly two dozen state lawmakers want New York's public pension fund to drop stock holdings in oil, natural gas and coal companies as part of a movement against global warming. AP Photo/Mike Groll

After firing a staffer who allegedly embezzled tens of thousands of dollars, State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz is coming under intense public scrutiny for his possible role in the recent money scandal.

In a letter that is set to be delivered to Ortiz’s office on Thursday afternoon, leaders and members of progressive groups demanded that the politician immediately hold a town hall to address questions from the public.

“These are troubling allegations that raise many questions. Some of these are legal questions to be addressed in a courtroom, but others are political questions for you to address as our Assembly Member and the leader for the Democratic Party in Red Hook, Sunset Park, South Slope, and parts of Bay Ridge and Borough Park,” said the letter, which was obtained by the Brooklyn Eagle.

The questions included in the letter target, among other things, alleged improper disclosure report filings, the possibility of more stolen funds and the assemblymember’s own knowledge of the alleged embezzlement.

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“This is the minimum that we are asking, not the maximum,” said Brandon West, president of the New Kings Democrats and a signatory of the letter. “There’s a lot of questions to answer and [Ortiz] should be as transparent and accountable as possible. That is his role as a legislator, he works for the people.”

Maruf Alam, 29, of Kensington, was arrested on Aug. 8 by federal authorities on charges of wire fraud stemming from the alleged diversion of nearly $80,000 in campaign funds to his personal bank account, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

State law requires that all candidates for state office provide reports on their campaign donations and expenses, filed through the New York State Board of Elections. The federal indictment against Alam alleges that he filed false reports, and in some cases no reports, in order to hide the purported embezzlement.

According to an Ortiz spokesperson, the Sunset Park official didn’t fully grasp the scope of the crimes of his former staffer until the indictment was unsealed earlier this month, at which point he fired Alam immediately.


“Ortiz is planning to address issues with the public shortly and is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney prosecuting Alam,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson did not give an exact date for when Ortiz plans to give a public response.

Find the full text of the letter below: 

Dear State Assembly Member Felix W. Ortiz,

It is a major crisis for our democracy when money intended for public elections instead ends up in private bank accounts. Late last week, the federal government accused your campaign treasurer and Chief of Staff, Maruf “Mitu” Alam, of facilitating just that.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has alleged that, over a seven year period, tens of thousands of dollars (at least $80,000) from campaign accounts set up in your name were diverted by Alam into large cash bundles and personal checking accounts. Some of it allegedly ended up as far away as China.

These are troubling allegations that raise many questions. Some of these are legal questions to be addressed in a courtroom, but others are political questions for you to address as our Assembly Member and the leader for the Democratic Party in Red Hook, Sunset Park, South Slope, and parts of Bay Ridge and Borough Park.

The undersigned leaders and groups organizing members and constituencies in the Brooklyn neighborhoods you represent would like to request your presence at an emergency public town hall to address the following questions as soon as possible:

  • What roles and responsibilities has Maruf Alam held in your office over the last decade, and what exposure has he had to decision-making around public procurement, contracting, and the use of public funds?
  • On Thursday, August 10, 2019 you said in a statement, “I am just now being made aware of the charges against my staff member.” However, the F.B.I says that they interviewed you in March of 2019 and asked you questions about potential fraud. When did you first become aware of the potential wrongdoing and what action did you take at that time?
  • The federal government says that you failed to file legally required disclosure reports for several years (2014, 2015, 2016). What is the reason for these improper filings?
  • Do you know if any of the allegedly stolen cash involved public matching funds from your 2016 City Council race?
  • Are you currently cooperating with federal authorities and if so, to what extent?

We strongly believe that this moment demands maximum transparency.

We look forward to hearing back from you and to scheduling this urgent town hall with your office as soon as practical. Can you please let us know by Tuesday, August 20, 2019 if you are available for a town hall and with a specific suggested date, time, and location should you have one. We can also help to secure a space should it be needed.

Sincerely,

Claudia Galicia, President of Sunset Park Latino Democrats
Brandon West, President of New Kings Democrats
Asher Novek, President of Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats
Shanna Castillo, Stacy Boyd,on behalf of Love Trumps Hate – Indivisible.
Susan Martin, on behalf of True Blue NY
David S. Goldberg, on behalf of NY Senate District 17 for Progress
Jared Arader, on behalf of Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn
Jason Shelly, President of Independent Neighborhood Democrats
Christina Das, on behalf of Brooklyn Young Democrats
Sherese Jackson, on behalf of Indivisible Nation BK (INBK)
Sally McMahon, on behalf of Fight Back Bay Ridge
Shannon Stagman, on behalf of Empire State Indivisible
Jorge Muñiz, County Committee Member, Assembly District 51
John Santore, County Committee Member, Assembly District 51
Sonja Shield, County Committee Member, Assembly District 51
Brice Gaillard, County Committee Member, Assembly District 51
Joan Strasbaugh, County Committee Member, Assembly District 51
Rebecca Harshbarger,County Committee Member, Assembly District 51
Rodrigo Camarena, former Community Board 7 member

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