Ex-lawmaker Shirley Huntley of Jamaica gave the people of the State of New York an early Valentine’s Day gift on Wednesday when she admitted in court that she was involved in the theft of thousands of dollars that were stolen from them.
Huntley, until recently a state senator, copped to a felony charge for the second time in two weeks, admitting that she tampered with evidence to cover up her role in the misappropriation of $30,000 in taxpayer money she had authorized to go to a nonprofit group that turned out to be a sham.
The evidence tampering charge is an E class felony, but prosecutors are recommending that Huntley only get five years’ probation for it because she already faces 18 to 24 months in prison in a separate but related case.
The charge she pleaded guilty to this week was brought in state court. Huntley had secured about $30,000 in member item funding — allocations to private organizations that don’t go through the regular legislative process — for a group she created called Parent Workshop, run by her former aide Patricia Savage and her niece, Lynn Smith. Parent Workshop was supposedly set up to assist families in educational matters but never did, instead just functioning as a vehicle to steal taxpayer money, according to the prosecutors.
After the state started investigating the group, Huntley created a template for a false, backdated letter that claimed Parent Workshop had held seminars though it never did.
“In or around March 2011, I assisted Roger Scotland and Patricia Savage by drafting a letter to be used to create a false record indicating that events on behalf of the Parent Workshop had taken place at the Beacon Center,” Huntley told a judge in open court in Nassau County, where the case was prosecuted. “I understood that the false record would be submitted by Patricia Savage in response to a subpoena issued as part of the attorney general’s investigation of Parent Workshop.”
Scotland is the former president of the Southern Queens Park Association. He was initially accused in the case but no longer faces any charges.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office conducted the investigation in conjunction with that of Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, said in announcing Huntley’s guilty plea, “It is unconscionable that an elected official would deliberately tamper with a law enforcement investigation into the theft of taxpayer dollars. Former Senator Huntley’s felony plea sends a strong message that those who abuse their positions to rip off taxpayers and tamper with investigations will be held accountable. My office’s partnership with the comptroller is designed to combat such corruption, and we will continue to work tirelessly to protect every penny of taxpayer money during these challenging economic times.”
Two weeks ago, Huntley pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge for stealing $87,000 in taxpayer money she had allocated for the Parent Information Network, another sham nonprofit group she founded with Smith and Savage. That charge could carry a prison term of up to five years, but Schneiderman’s announcement said Huntley is facing only one and a half to two years.
Smith, Savage and another defendant, David Gantt, still face various state charges in the Parent Workshop case.
Smith and Savage are each charged with multiple felony counts of grand larceny in the third degree and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, while Gantt is charged with multiple counts of tampering with physical evidence and falsifying business records in the first degree, as well as one count of conspiracy in the fifth degree.