Lawmaker Fraudulently Took Cash Meant for Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief, Prosecutors Say


A NY state assemblywoman has been indicted on fraud charges after authorities say she falsely claimed Superstorm Sandy forced her from her home.

Harris represents Bay Ridge, Beach Haven, Brightwater Towers, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Dyker Heights and nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Her arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ramon Reyes, Jr. Beginning that December, according to the indictment, Harris applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for housing assistance, claiming that the storm had rendered her three-story residence on Neptune Avenue uninhabitable.

Harris, 57, was charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making false statements, bankruptcy fraud, witness tampering and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

In 2016, as a state assemblywoman, she submitted those fake documents to the city's Build it Back Program to obtain additional assistance for "substantial construction to her home", the indictment said.

Harris is at least the 45th state lawmaker to face ethical or legal charges since 2000, according to a database maintained by the USA TODAY Network.

Harris also allegedly lied and said her house had been so badly damaged that she had to move and even presented the government with fraudulent lease agreements and rent payments for another house in Staten Island.

According to the 21-page federal indictment, Harris defrauded the City Council of almost $23,000 by falsely claiming the money would cover the rent for a Brooklyn nonprofit.

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From 2012 and 2016, Harris defrauded various government agencies, including the City Council, the city's Department of Youth and Community Development, FEMA, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the NYC Build It Back Program and U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of NY, according to Richard Donoughue, interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of NY.

According to officials, after Harris became aware of a grand jury investigation into her alleged fraud schemes early a year ago, she told witnesses to lie to FBI investigators, "which the witnesses did", according to the indictment.

As a sitting assemblywoman between July 2015 and January 2017, Harris allegedly committed the same rent scheme, using $11,400 of discretionary funding for personal use.

Harris spent the money on household expenses, her mortgage, at stores like Victoria's Secret and on airfare and cruise tickets, according to prosecutors.

Between July 2015 and January 2017, Harris committed a almost identical scheme-but this time as a sitting Assemblywoman.

The lawyers noted that "importantly, none of the allegations contained in the indictment relate to Ms. Harris's conduct in office".

Just six months before she submitted her November 13, 2013, petition for bankruptcy with her husband, according to the indictment, Harris opened a new bank account and deposited $10,000 into it that same day.