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Brooklyn Supreme Court judge arrested on charges of obstructing justice

October 11, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
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Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Sylvia Ash was arrested on Friday and charged with obstruction of justice. She was subsequently suspended, with pay, from the Court of Appeals.

Ash, presiding justice of the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court, is one of the more ubiquitous and well-respected members of the local legal community. Judges and lawyers were in shock on Friday upon hearing of the allegations.

“It is sad, it’s really, really sad,” said Domenick Napoletano, former president of the Brooklyn Bar Association. “I can’t wrap my head around it. I hope it’s not true. I don’t see her as being the kind of person that would put herself in this position. Right now it’s just an accusation and we have to give her the benefit of the doubt that the accusation is wrong.”

Ash is the former chair of the board of directors of the Municipal Credit Union. Her charges stem from an alleged scheme to help cover up an embezzlement scandal involving MCU’s former CEO Kam Wong, who pleaded guilty to stealing millions of dollars from MCU in November 2018.

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“Sylvia Ash, a sitting state court judge, took repeated steps to obstruct a federal investigation into significant financial misconduct at MCU during Ash’s tenure as chair of the board of directors,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman.

The Supreme Court judge was arrested at LaGuardia Airport on Friday and appeared before Magistrate Judge Ona Wang in the afternoon.

According to the criminal complaint, Ash received thousands of dollars in reimbursements and other benefits from MCU — including airfare, hotels, food and entertainment — from 2012 to 2016, during which time she was a board member at MCU.

Even after her resignation from the board, former CEO Wong continued to give Ash gifts, such as electronic devices, according to the complaint.

Ash began to assist Wong in January 2018 by signing a false and misleading memorandum purporting to explain millions of dollars in payments that Wong received from MCU, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors claim that Ash tried to impede federal investigators by deleting text messages and emails from her MCU-issued phone and making false statements to officers in interviews conducted as part of a federal criminal investigation.

Ash is charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and two counts of obstruction of justice. If convicted, the obstruction charges each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and the conspiracy charge carries five.

Ash began serving as a judge in Brooklyn’s Civil Court in 2006. In 2011, she became a Supreme Court justice and was appointed as presiding justice of the Supreme Court, Commercial Division, in 2016.

She was a board member of MCU from May 2008 until August 2016, when she resigned. At the time of her resignation, she was serving both as the board’s chairperson and as a trustee to MCU’s pension plan.

When reached for comment, many of the local bar association presidents expressed shock but declined to comment.

Justice Ash was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association in 2018.

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