It was in 2008 that Hiram Monserrate won the Senate seat for the 13th District in Western Queens unopposed. It was also the year that led to his downfall.
On Dec. 19, Monserrate’s then-girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, showed up at North Shore-LIJ Medical Center needing 40 stitches for cuts to her left eye. According to doctors, she claimed that Monserrate had slashed her face in anger, leading to his arrest. He pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree assault and three counts of third-degree assault.
In spite of a video that showed him dragging her out of their apartment building, Giraldo later testified that Monserrate was trying to take her to a hospital after he tripped with a glass of water, breaking it and cutting her accidentally.
With charges still pending, he was sworn into the Senate on Jan. 7, 2009. Ten months later, he was convicted on only one misdemeanor account and ordered to complete community service and counseling and given a $1000 fine. A restraining order was also put on Monserrate against Giraldo, but later dropped at her request after the two reconciled.
Members of the Senate urged him to resign and when he refused, they voted 53-8 for his expulsion in 2010, the first since the 1920s. Five weeks later, he tried to win a Senate seat in a special election but lost in a landslide to Assemblyman Jose Peralta. Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) claimed the ousting was in retribution for Monserrate’s brief party switch in 2009, which temporarily shifted the balance of power in favor of Republicans. After Monserrate was indicted, the Democratic Party welcomed him back, reinstating his committee chairmanship.
The incident with Giraldo was not his first sign of trouble. He had been a New York City police officer but filed for a disability pension in 1999, citing mental problems for which the department seized his gun. On Sept. 10, 2001 he allegedly ran over a tow-truck driver’s leg as the man was attempting to repossess his car.
A year after that incident, he began to serve Queens as a member of the City Council, during which he funneled more than $100,000 meant for LIBRE, a nonprofit that helped the Latino community, into his 2006 campaign for the state Senate. In 2010 he was indicted for misusing city funds. By that time, he claimed to only have $100 to his name and asked the judge to use taxpayer funds to pay for his lawyer. The judge refused.
He pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges but asked Judge Colleen McMahon for community service instead of prison, arguing that the money was used for political purposes and not personal gain. That time he got two years in jail and was ordered to pay $79,000 to the city.
“When Dante wrote the ‘Divine Comedy’ he assigned crimes to different circles of hell. Using people’s money for your own purposes is deep down in that circle of hell,” said the judge.