Archive for the tag 'corruption'

Sampson (File photo)

Another allegation has surfaced against indicted State Senator John Sampson, with a former top aide admitting to federal prosecutors that he swiped $100,000 from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and forked most of it over to a senator believed to be Sampson.

The Post reports:

Melvin Lowe admitted during confidential meetings with prosecutors that he defrauded the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee out of $100,000 – and gave $75,000 of the money to “Senator #1,” the filing says. A source said “Senator #1” is Lowe’s ex-boss, Sampson (D-Brooklyn), who is fighting charges that he, himself, also committed fraud and tax crimes.

… Prosecutors also said they have a witness who’ll testify hearing Lowe and Sampson discuss the cash exchange.

Lowe is facing tax evasion charges, as well as allegations that he swindled the DCSS out of the cash in 2010. He faces 80 years in prison if convicted.

Sampson was indicted last year for corruption. Among the list of charges is that he stole nearly half a million dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes.

Despite campaign debt stemming from the legal charges, Sampson is still a formidable contender in this year’s state elections. An incumbent since 1996, it remains to be seen whether union organizer Dell Smitherman or homeless advocate Sean Henry will be able to overcome his name recognition.

He also continues to have the backing of the Kings County Democratic Party chair, Frank Seddio, and an associate of the Gambino crime family.

Sampson (File photo)

More than 90 percent of embattled State Senator John Sampson’s donations for the last filing period came from one man: George Fortunato, a reputed Gambino crime family associate.

Fortunato gave the pol $10,500 last month. The next largest contribution was $500 from a lobbyist.

According to the New York Post, Fortunato is considered a “dormant” associate and not under investigation, although he has been identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in an extortion plot connected to Peter Gotti.

Sampson described the mobbed up Mill Basin resident as a “close family friend.” His treasurer confirmed that the pol went to Fortunato to seek the contribution.

The Post reports:

Fortunato, of Mill Basin, has been a Sampson supporter since at least 1999.

Sampson was his defense lawyer after he was busted on hate-crime charges in a 2003 attack on a Chinese woman in a Queens restaurant. Fortunato’s wife, Jackie, and a daughter, Annamarie, were also arrested.

Charges against Annamarie were dropped. George and Jackie pleaded guilty to assault in a deal that spared them prison in exchange for taking racial-sensitivity and anger-management classes.

Sampson was a sitting state senator when he represented Fortunto. That was also the same year Fotunato was identified as a co-conspirator.

Sampson is currently under indictment for allegedly embezzling more than $400,000 from the sale of foreclosed homes to finance a political campaign, as well as separate charges for lying to the FBI about a liquor store he owned.

Sampson’s campaign donations came under the scope late last month as well. His rival accused him of running a campaign with a $28,746 deficit, suggesting that the pol was hiding sources of revenue. Approximately a dozen donations also listed the donors’ addresses as the senator’s office, even though they did not work there.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz is backtracking on details of an overseas trip in which he spent more than $1,300 in campaign funds at a hotel, three restaurants and a gift shop in Barcelona and Germany, bringing guffaws from good government advocates.

The local pol’s European spending, first reported by the New York Observer, covered a three-day spree in February. Cymbrowitz’s campaign finance disclosures show he spent $189 at a souvenir shop in Munich, which he filed away as “office expenses.” In Barcelona, the assemblyman spent $819 at the five-star Hotel Majestic, and nearly $300 over four visits to three restaurants, including the top-rated tapas bar Cerveceria Catalana.

Asked about the spending by Sheepshead Bites following the Observer article, Cymbrowitz spokesperson Adrienne Knoll forward the following statement which was also sent to the Observer:

As the child of Holocaust survivors, I promised my parents I would do everything in my power to help Holocaust survivors and to not let our world fall into the destructive grips of fascism ever again. In keeping that pledge I made more than 50 years ago, I visited Munich, Germany, and had an opportunity to visit the Dachau memorial site, where more than 32,000 Jews and non-Jews were killed. During my visit I was reminded of the fact that one in four of the approximately 140,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States – 38,000 of whom live in Brooklyn, the majority of them in my district – are living at or below the poverty line.

After a number of Russian-speaking survivors in my district were denied benefits from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany due to bureaucratic snafus, my office intervened. To advocate on behalf of these Russian-speaking Holocaust survivors, I met with a board member from the Claims Conference during my trip to Munich, as well as with a number of board members back here in the U.S., in order to rectify the situation and to ensure that some small measure of justice is achieved.

I also met with city officials in Munich to discuss the issue of Neo-Nazism and how the German government works on putting together programs for the Jewish community to help Jewish seniors and children. As the state legislator with the largest Sephardic Jewish population in the state, I was invited to Barcelona to meet with city officials and members of local, prominent Jewish organizations.

The spokesperson added the following, “[Cymbrowitz] went with other legislators. [The Observer] made it sound like a solo excursion and that wasn’t the case.”

However, after follow-up questions asking Cymbrowitz’s office to specify legislators were also on the trip, the spokesperson reversed course on that assertion.

“One correction….he didn’t go with other legislators. Sorry,” Knoll said, via e-mail.

In response to our request for details on his being “invited” to Barcelona, we received another e-mail stating, “He was not invited to Barcelona. That was an error. As the assemblyman who represents a large Sephardic community with roots in Spain, he went to Barcelona to meet with the remaining members of the Sephardic community to talk about the rise in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism.”

Cymbrowitz’s office did not respond to additional questions about the “city officials and members of local, prominent Jewish organizations” he met with while in Barcelona, and declined to provide an itinerary or appointment calendar.

His office also declined to explain why $189 was spent at a souvenir shop and listed as “office expenses” for the campaign.

The expenses did not involve taxpayer money, and campaign finance regulations allow funds to be spent at the candidate’s discretion, so long as they can explain how it relates to their office they’re running for.

Cymbrowitz’s spending, though, has brought criticism from Common Cause, a good government group that advocates for tighter controls of campaign spending as well as publicly financed campaigns.

“This kind of conduct, using campaign dollars to stay at five-star hotels, to buy expensive souvenirs in exotic places, simply fuels the public cynicism about elected officials and campaigns,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause. “There should be clear delineation between what is and isn’t a campaign expense, especially since so many public officials don’t seem to have their own guidance system about what’s appropriate.”

Lerner said Cymbrowitz’s explanations – and back-tracking – doesn’t pass the sniff test, and reflects poorly on Albany culture.

“It’s kind of amazing. He’s trying to come up with justifications [for travel spending] after the fact. It just seems to be egregious to justify the spending at five-star hotels and restaurants in the interest of Holocaust survivors. It’s really kind of unbelievable,” she said.

She added that she doubted his claim of visiting Barcelona’s small Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, since most contemporary incidents are in central Europe.

“There seems to be tenuous connection [between visiting Spain and his duties as an office-holder] and there should be a full accounting of the facts and a precise record of his activities. Then voters can decide for themselves,” she said.

Sampson (File photo)

State Senator John Sampson, facing three primary challengers and multiple federal corruption charges, has the backing of Brooklyn’s top Democrat even as his reelection chances look bleak.

The influential chair of the Kings County Democratic Committee, Frank Seddio, says that the organization is not formally backing the embattled pol. Seddio, however, is also a district leader in Sampson’s area and the head of the powerful Thomas Jefferson Club. In those capacities, he’s tossed his hat in with Sampson.

“I’m the local district leader in this area. John Sampson represents almost my entire political district, 59 percent of my district, and he’s been our senator for the last 18 years,” Seddio told City & State. “So our club is supporting him. The county (Democratic committee) doesn’t take positions on these types of things.”

Seddio has put his attorney to getting Sampson challenger Dell Smitherman, considered a leading contender for the seat, kicked off the ballot. The attorney, Bernard “Mitch” Alter, has formally requested that the Board of Election toss out hundreds of petitions – signatures needed to get on the ballot – which would leave Smitherman out of the race.

Sources told City & State that Seddio views the race as a test of his leadership within the county party, not just within the Jefferson clubhouse that Sampson is a member of.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the inner workings of Brooklyn politics described the situation differently, linking Seddio’s support for Sampson directly to the official Brooklyn party organization.

“Frank Seddio, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, is taking two races very seriously and as a test of his leadership,” said the Brooklyn political insider. “The first is the recently vacated seat of Eric Adams, and the second is the Sampson seat. He is doing everything he can … to ensure that John Sampson is protected and reelected.”

While the county organization might not be formally backing Sampson, there’s little to differentiate between Seddio’s wishes and that of county. Having Seddio’s support, for example, could give Sampson access to campaign donors eager to curry favor with the county boss, not to mention that it’s already given him access to election lawyers as the petition process shows.

Similarly, Seddio’s influence as county boss extends to all of his other roles, insiders say.

One insider with a Democratic club told Sheepshead Bites that Seddio was unhappy with the group after they released their first batch of endorsements, which included Smitherman. Seddio requested that he be consulted on future endorsements – a request that was granted as the club needs Seddio’s approval as a recognized chapter of the Democratic party. In that role, he was able to vouch for his candidates as district leader and head of the Thomas Jefferson Club, but his words were given extra consideration because he’s county chair, the insider said. (The insider notes that they now consult with him on all endorsements, although they do not always endorse the candidates Seddio supports.)

Seddio’s support is about all Sampson can count on, though. The 18-year-incumbent and one-time head of the State Senate Democratic Conference has seen support dry up, raising only $34,000 for this year’s campaign. Smitherman reports having $47,000 on hand, and Sean Henry reported nearly $56,000. Both Smitherman and Henry have also scored crucial union endorsements.

Sampson was indicted last year for corruption. Among the list of charges is that he stole nearly half a million dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes.

The approximately footprint of the combined properties now owned by Muss Development. (Source: Google Maps)

The approximately footprint of the combined properties now owned by Muss Development. (Source: Google Maps)

Muss Development, the developer that built and manages Brighton Beach’s Oceana Condominium complex, has snapped up a sprawling 87,500-square-foot development site on Sheepshead Bay Road that was previously slated to become a mall – and they’ve announced plans to make it fully residential.

The deal was done in two parts, with Muss teaming up with AvalonBay Communities to purchase 1501 Voorhies Avenue, currently the vacant lot adjacent to the subway station that was once occupied by Verizon, at $16.2 million. In a separate deal, Muss acquired for $4 million the attached property at 1600 Sheepshead Bay Road at East 16th Street, where Citibank and several vacant storefronts are currently located.

These are properties with a back story.

The sites were sold by Acadia Realty Trust, which purchased them for $20.3 million in 2008. Acadia, in partnership with PA Associates had planned a two-building complex dubbed Station Plaza that included a 22-story mixed-use tower. There was to be mall with four floors of shopping, a new public street that cut through the property at East 16th Street, and more than 650 parking spaces – anchored by 16 floors of residential condominiums.

A rendering of the four-story mall previously planned for this location. A 16-story tower would have been perched atop this.

A rendering of the four-story mall previously planned for this location. A 16-story tower would have been perched atop this.

That was the plan, until the economy tanked and PA Associates were tied up with former State Senator Carl Kruger in a corruption scandal. Even before all that, we noted that the ambitious plan was a long way from becoming a reality.

Muss Development is looking to ditch the mall idea altogether, and make the larger property, the Verizon lot, fully residential. It will be split between condominiums and rental units, according to Commercial Observer, and can be built up to 250,000 square feet. It’s not yet clear how tall that would be, but the previously planned 22-story tower was one of the few that could be built in the area without seeking approval from the community due to the immense size of the lot. So while the new owners will not be able to build quite as tall, they can still make a good reach for the sky.

It’s unclear what the plans are for the Sheepshead Bay Road site, which currently has 4,000 square feet of retail and 9,000 square feet of commercial space.

Source: DVIDSHUB/Flickr

The American Red Cross is coming under fire for refusing to disclose how it spent more than $300 million in funds raised for Superstorm Sandy relief, claiming that the information is a “trade secret.”

Investigative news outlet ProPublica has been fighting to get the independent relief organization to reveal how it spent donated funds on Sandy between the storm and February 2014, but the organization refuses to give a breakdown.

But the organization did fork over information to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating this and other charities – so ProPublica filed a public records request with his office to see what was handed over.

The site reports what happened next:

That’s where the law firm Gibson Dunn comes in.

An attorney from the firm’s New York office appealed to the attorney general to block disclosure of some of the Sandy information, citing the state Freedom of Information Law’s trade secret exemption.

The documents include “internal and proprietary methodology and procedures for fundraising, confidential information about its internal operations, and confidential financial information,” wrote Gabrielle Levin of Gibson Dunn in a letter to the attorney general’s office.

If those details were disclosed, “the American Red Cross would suffer competitive harm because its competitors would be able to mimic the American Red Cross’s business model for an increased competitive advantage,” Levin wrote.

The letter doesn’t specify who the Red Cross’ “competitors” are.

The Red Cross is a public charity and occupies a unique place responding to disasters alongside the federal government.

Some of the organization’s redaction requests were trivial: lines that simple read “American Red Cross,” or sections of letter stating they were willing to meet with the attorney general.

Those requests were denied by Schneiderman’s office, but others included information that the attorney general agreed was “proprietary and constitutes trade secrets,” such as “business strategies, internal operational procedures and decisions, and the internal deliberations and decision-making processes that affect fundraising and the allocation of donations.”

ProPublica has not yet received the documents from the attorney general, but the outlet says it will report on them when they do.

UPDATE (6:00 p.m.): Councilmember Mark Treyger, chairman of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, asked us to tack this on to the article, following the introduction (with Councilmember Ulrich) of a bill to create a monitor to oversee Sandy relief funding to prevent fraud.

“Citizens who donate to disaster relief efforts, including in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, have a right to know that their money is being used to help victims recover and rebuild. With so much funding at stake, and residents still in need of so much assistance, I remain concerned about the potential for misuse of relief funds, including by government agencies, contractors and private organizations. That’s why I worked with my colleague Council Member Eric Ulrich to introduce legislation this week establishing an independent monitor to investigate instances of waste, fraud and abuse in order to maximize the amount of aid delivered to impacted neighborhoods across New York City. To be clear, I am not accusing the Red Cross of any improper activity, but rather am reiterating the need for openness and transparency as the recovery effort moves forward.”

grimm2Congressman Michael Grimm, already in hot water over criminal charges that he evaded taxes and illegally employed undocumented immigrants, may have violated the internal ethics rules of the House of Representatives when he threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony in January.

The New York Times reports:

A one-page report by the office, a quasi-independent investigative body that serves almost like a grand jury, was released on Wednesday by the House Ethics Committee, the panel of lawmakers with the exclusive power to punish colleagues for ethical infractions.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, in a preliminary review, unanimously concluded in March that there was “substantial reason to believe that Representative Grimm threatened a reporter with bodily harm and engaged in a threatening or menacing act that created a fear of immediate injury,” which would violate local law in the District of Columbia as well as House ethics rules.

Grimm made headlines the night of the State of the Union when he was caught on camera threatening NY1 reporter Michael Scotto. He told the reporter he would “break him like a boy” and throw him off the balcony of the Capitol rotunda.

Scotto was interviewing him about a federal investigation into the congressman’s campaign fundraising that later led to criminal indictments of several Grimm associates. Grimm himself has so far escaped charges on that matter, but was slapped with a 20-count indictment alleging financial and employment improprieties in connection to a restaurant he operated before entering Congress.

The House panel will not investigate further at this time, setting it aside at the request of federal prosecutors.

Food

Would you risk perjury for this? (Source: WhiteCastle.com)

A sack of White Castle sliders may have just nabbed the world record for most expensive fast food meal ever.

The city agreed to dole out $32,500 of taxpayer money to compensate two men arrested and allegedly beaten for not forking over the meal to Coney Island police officers.

The case first came to light in March when two men, Danny Maisonet and Kenneth Glover filed suit against the NYPD, claiming they were falsely arrested in 2012 by police officers who wanted their meals.

The two say they got out of a cab carrying the sweaty sliders on Halloween 2012 at Neptune Avenue, where cops were rounding up a group of suspected looters. The officers demanded the burgers, the men claimed, and were rebuffed.

The New York Post describes what happened next:

Enraged by the denial, the officers began to beat the men with flashlights and eventually arrested them for obstruction of governmental administration, according to the suit.

Officers​, meanwhile,​ accused them of blocking their way as they tried to round up the looters, court papers state.

The pair were held for two days and were forced to attend several court appearances before the charges against them were tossed.

Pizzarro (Source: DCPI)

Pizzarro (Source: DCPI)

Officer Angelo Pizzarro filed the report, swearing that the men were standing in his way during the struggle with the alleged looters.

In an unrelated case, Pizzarro was described by an assistant district attorney as “not the brightest tool in the shed,” after the cop’s “bizarre and implausible” testimony regarding missing evidence caused that case to be lost. Pizzarro was part of a team of Coney Island housing cops who said they spotted a man with a gun in his waistband.

The Daily News reports:

But when Pizzarro was called to testify at a hearing in November, he claimed his memo book detailing the arrest had been “washed away” with his locker by Sandy.

Later it was learned that Pizzarro had previously handed over the missing memo book to the city Law Department in a separate lawsuit. Questioned why the memo book was not waterlogged and the ink still legible, Pizzarro came up with this explanation: “There are pens that write under water. It won’t leave a blemish, a running mark or anything.”

The judge in that case referred Pizzarro’s testimony to the Internal Affairs Bureau for investigation. It’s unclead if the “separate lawsuit” mentioned above is the White Castle suit or a third, unrelated lawsuit involving the officer.

The White Castle suit was dismissed Wednesday, with the city agreeing to pay Glover $20,000 and Maisonett $12,500.

grimm2

Grimm

Congressman Michael Grimm faces a 20-count indictment for tax evasion and illegal employment practices stemming from a restaurant he operated before running for Congress, charges he said are because the nation’s commander-and-chief wants to see him gone.

Grimm made the allegations against the Obama administration on Tuesday before a gathering of Republican supporters rallying for gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino. He also compared the United States to oppressive regimes in Iran and North Korea.

New York Observer reported on the statements:

“They change policy, they use regulation to legislate, they circumvent the Congress–this is now the norm for the Obama administration,” Mr. Grimm fumed at the Bay Ridge Manor in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

“And when you look and see why they come after me so hard, every day another negative story [against] the only Republican in New York City, it becomes obvious: they don’t want any opposition. This administration wants to do what it wants to do and they want you to forget about the America that you grew up in,” he said.

… “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’m not sure what country I’m living in,” he said. “Four Americans are killed and murdered in Benghazi–no one’s held accountable …. The IRS, arguably the most feared agency in our entire government targeting people because of their political views. Now this happens in Iran, this happens in North Korea, but this is the United States of America.”

The site reported that the statements “drew loud cheers.”

Grimm has long maintained that the investigation against him, which began as a probe into his 2010 campaign fundraising, was a “political witch hunt” by Democrats looking to see the city’s lone Republican congressman unseated. Prosecutors, however, have submitted paperwork to the court suggesting that Grimm’s own documents show he kept two sets of books and paid employees – some of which were undocumented immigrants – in cash to avoid taxes.

Grimm’s assertion that he is the subject of political retaliation has sparked snark from colleagues, including State Senator Diane Savino. The pol, whose district is largely within Grimm’s, let forth a tirade on Facebook about Grimm’s conspiracy theory back in April:

[G]et a grip folks, Mikey is not that important, he is no threat to the power structure, he is a slick talker with a nice resume who seems to be in trouble. he was not on track for greatness as a national leader, not on track to upset the national scene. Conspiracy, please….

Grimm pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Oceana complex (Source: Google Maps)

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz responded to anonymous allegations published today in a local newspaper, which claim he is in cahoots with Oceana condominium developers to privatize a portion of Brighton Beach, by saying it “pisses me off” and is “totally inaccurate.”

The response is to a Will Bredderman political column in Brooklyn Daily, which cites an anonymous source as saying the pol is “trying to broker a deal that would permit the swank, beachfront Oceana Condominiums to take over a section of the public shore.”

“I think it just goes to show what Will Bredderman and [Brooklyn Daily's publisher] Courier-Life print. There are inaccuracies in every part of it, and anything I sent to him, he didn’t write,” Cymbrowitz told Sheepshead Bites.

In the column, Bredderman points to the pol’s opposition to the elevated comfort stations in front of Oceana as evidence that the pol is attempting to clear the way for a privatized beach. They also note the 2013 bill introduced by Cymbrowitz, and first reported on by Sheepshead Bites, that would transfer jurisdiction of the beach from the more restrictive state Department of Environmental Conservation to the city’s Parks Department. The paper called the bill, which was cosponsored by Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny,  “a first step toward privatization.”

“I think that’s inaccurate. My response to him was simply that, by giving the jurisdiction to the Parks department, it would allow us to use the money that was received from [Brook-Krasny's predecessor] Adele Cohen years ago to build a bike path,” said Cymbrowitz. “DEC wouldn’t allow it. But if the Parks Department had jurisdiction, they would have done it. [Bredderman] didn’t write any of that.”

That bill was squashed following a Sheepshead Bites’ report, although it briefly reemerged earlier this year before being pulled again. Last year, Cymbrowitz said he killed the bill because he was disappointed with Parks’ handling of the comfort stations, although this outlet noted at the time that the bill was introduced after Cymbrowitz came out against the Oceana restrooms. Cymbrowitz said the bill’s reappearance this year was because his staff automatically reintroduced it as a matter of routine, and that he killed it after it came to his attention.

Moreover, Cymbrowitz said he doesn’t see how transferring jurisdiction from a state to a city agency helps privatize a beach, and unequivocally stated that he never had conversations with Oceana’s developers, Muss Development, or any other party about privatizing the beach.

“Absolutely not. Never. And how could… I don’t even think it’s possible to privatize a public beach. So whoever Bredderman is getting his information from is totally inaccurate. And that’s I think what pisses me off more than anything else, all the inaccuracies. Why doesn’t he name who said it, or who the conversation was with if I had a conversation? That’s not going to happen,” he said.

Muss Development has for years boasted of a “private beach” as one of the amenities at Oceana on its website. On being contacted by Brooklyn Daily, the company called it a “typo” and said they had no discussions with the assemblyman regarding the privatization of a stretch of Brighton Beach for their benefit.

That, locals say, is bunk.

“If you’re asking me what the facts are, the facts are that Oceana wanted a private beach from the beginning and marketed it that way,” said local activist and longtime Brighton Beach resident Ida Sanoff. “It is common knowledge that they claimed to be building a private beach there when they first opened. They told a number of my neighbors who looked at apartments there about a private beach. And, early on, they had security guards [on the sand in front of the development] and whoever wandered by was told it was a private beach.”

Sanoff, who is also the executive director of the Natural Resources Protective Association, and who was the first to sound the alarm about the 2013 legislation turning over jurisdiction, said she continues to have concerns about that bill.

“Of course I’m concerned,” she said. “The Parks Department does have the ability to issue franchises,” meaning allowing private concessions to operate on the beach. “So if someone, somewhere, decided this is what they wanted to do [on these beaches], once Parks has control of the beach it could be done routinely. And once it’s done here, you’ve set the precedent to do it on any beach in New York City.”

Sanoff, though, said she had no idea if that’s what Cymbrowitz’s intent is, and said she did not know of any meetings between the pol and Oceana’s developers about privatizing the beach.

“Cymbrowitz, I haven’t spoken to the man in years,” she said. “I know as much about what’s going on in his head as I do President Obama’s.”

Bredderman declined to comment on this article without approval from his editors. We will update this post if we receive a statement.

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