Hiram Monserrate, a former state senator and city councilman from western Queens, pleaded guilty on Friday to funneling more than $100,000 intended for a nonprofit to help fund his failed bid for the state Senate in 2006, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
Monserrate, 44, who was elected to the state Senate in 2008 and then ousted in early 2010 after being convicted of misdemeanor assault for dragging his bleeding girlfriend through his apartment building in Jackson Heights, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to charges of conspiracy and mail fraud. He faces two years in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 14, prosecutors said.
When Monserrate represented the 21st Council District, he directed about $300,000 in discretionary funding to a nonprofit called the Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment —$109,000 of which he secretly used to finance his campaign for the 13th Senate District, Bharara said. The 21st district covers Corona, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.
“As a City Council member, Hiram Monserrate was supposed to help deserving community groups by directing city funds to them, not use one of those groups as a front to illegally finance his state Senate campaign,” Bharara said in a prepared statement. “Sadly, Monserrate took money out of the pockets of needy people to fund his own political career. We will continue to pursue and prosecute elected officials who foolishly think that they can corruptly use public money for their own benefit.”
According to prosecutors, Monserrate directed employees of the nonprofit LIBRE to perform work on behalf of his political campaign from June through September of 2006, for which the nonprofit paid them thousands of dollars. LIBRE — Spanish for “free” — also used its discretionary funds to conduct a voter registration drive in the Senate district where Monserrate was campaigning, and the disgraced politician directed the group to create a database of the registered voters and provide it to his campaign. Prosecutors pointed out that because LIBRE deliberately delayed providing the same information to the state Board of Elections until shortly before the primary, Monserrate gained an unfair advantage by being the only candidate to know who LIBRE had registered to vote.
Additionally, in June and July of 2006, Monserrate had LIBRE use its discretionary funds to pay workers to gather signatures of registered voters on petitions designating him as a candidate for the Democratic party’s nomination for the state Senate, prosecutors said.
“As an elected official, this defendant should have protected his constituents and taxpayer funds,” Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said in a prepared statement. “Instead, he abused them to gain political advantage and support a failed bid for state Senate. Today’s guilty plea drives home the message that an elected official who betrays the public trust will be held accountable.”
Monserrate is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 14.