State Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) today denied allegations that she is in any way connected to a fraud scheme perpetrated by disgraced lawmaker Shirley Huntley, who pleaded guilty last week to embezzling nearly $90,000 in taxpayer money.
“It’s a bunch of crap,” Cook said, speaking exclusively to the Queens Chronicle about the accusations. “It’s nonsense.”
Court papers make reference to a “New York State public official” who on multiple occasions took steps to ensure that Huntley’s bogus nonprofit, the Parents Information Network, repeatedly received state funds. And that official is reportedly Cook.
“I’m not going to confirm, deny or comment on that,” said Robert Nardoza, the spokesman for the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch of New York’s Eastern District.
During her appearance in Brooklyn Federal Court, Huntley told Judge Jack Weinstein that she had an agreement with a member of the state Assembly guaranteeing a steady flow of taxpayer money in the form of member items went to PIN and that she and that person used the money for personal shopping, according to a report in the New York Post. But Huntley did not cite Cook by name.
“I am disturbed and very hurt by it,” Cook said.
She added that she spoke to Huntley following her court appearance and questioned why she would make such claims, but Cook said Huntley would not give her an answer.
“Stealing money from taxpayers or from anyone else is not something I would ever do,” Cook said firmly. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
PIN received public funds under the guise that it was going to help educate parents about the city public school system. Instead, Huntley used the money for her own personal gain.
Cook said she gave $10,000 annually to PIN from 2001 to 2005, but only because she witnessed the work it was doing at functions at PS 30 and PS 80, both in Jamaica, and thought it was “a worthwhile organization.” It was between 2005 and 2008 that Huntley allegedly stole the money, according to court papers.
Huntley, 74, of Jamaica pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, admitting that she embezzled $87,700 from PIN. She has agreed to pay back the money she stole to the state Department of Education, as part of her plea deal with the government. When sentenced, Huntley faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Cook said she has not been contacted by prosecutors yet regarding a possible connection to Huntley’s wrongdoing.
The ex-Queens lawmaker also faces state corruption charges related to the nonprofit group. In that case, Huntley is charged with tampering with physical evidence and falsifying business records in the first degree, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Each of those felonies carries a maximum sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison. She also faces a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy in the fifth degree.
Huntley lost her bid for re-election to then-city councilman and now-state Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Jamaica), 40 to 57 percent in the September primary.