From the page scandal swirling in Congress to accusations that former Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro wanted to wiretap her husband, there has been no shortage of political scandals in recent weeks. But none of those hit us as hard as the villainous allegations against one of our own legislators, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin.
Before FBI agents raided McLaughlin’s district office and the Central Labor Council in March, we were not alone in viewing McLaughlin as a rising star in Queens politics. Unlike some of his colleagues in our borough’s Assembly delegation who coast on their incumbency, McLaughlin was visible and active. He took a stance on the issues, was often seen in public and sponsored important legislation while keeping an eye on the bread and butter issues in his district. Some critics had raised eyebrows over McLaughlin’s second hat as president of the Central Labor Council, but the objections in Queens were muted—after all, that extra clout helped him bring home the bacon for his constituents.
What we could not see—now detailed in black and white in a criminal indictment unsealed Tuesday—appears to be a betrayal of the greatest magnitude. The charges against McLaughlin read like an encyclopedia that lists every possible type of theft and pilfering. He is accused of raiding labor union accounts to pay his credit card bills and country club dues. He allegedly used union members to string his Christmas lights, take out his garbage and trap rodents in his basement. He purportedly created fake jobs on his Assembly payroll and then pocketed the income, and is said to have had his local Democratic club pay for his rent and buy a plasma TV for the home of a “person with whom he maintained a personal relationship.” Even children were not immune from his apparent greed: he is accused of misappropriating $100,000 from accounts belonging to the Electchester Athletic Association, which pays for a Little League baseball program.
We should point out that every allegation is just that. McLaughlin is innocent until proven guilty, like all accused people in our country. But, given his stature, we suspect that the U.S. Attorney’s Office weighed the charges carefully before making them official. The investigation into McLaughlin (and others, including his chief of staff) has been under way for at least seven months and probably longer. In retrospect, it is hard to imagine any other reason for McLaughlin’s surprise announcement in January that he would not seek re election.
Now, McLaughlin is hardly the first politician accused of enriching himself at others’ expense. What adds insult to injury, however, is that his entire career, with its singular focus on labor unions, was built around the little guy. In reality, McLaughlin was anything but the little guy. Between his two jobs, he made a salary of more than $263,000—nearly six times the average Queens household income of $45,000. He has an apartment in the swank Opal complex in Kew Gardens Hills and a home in Suffolk County near Long Island Sound. But even that doesn’t appear to have been enough. He is accused of raiding his own campaign funds for renovations.
If McLaughlin is innocent, which we sincerely hope he is, we are confident that he will have access to the best lawyers available to clear his name and move ahead. But if it turns out that he is guilty, prosecutors should penalize him to the maximum extent allowable under law. Maybe we are naive, but we still believe that our elected officials should be role models in our society. Sometimes the best way they can do that is from behind bars.