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Assemblywoman from Brooklyn charged in fraud scheme involving Superstorm Sandy funds

10 January 2018

"When she learned that law enforcement was investigating her various fraud schemes, she pressured witnesses to lie to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and cover them up", said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue.

Between 2012 and 2014, Harris swindled FEMA out of almost $25,000 by falsely claiming to FEMA she had been forced out of her residence by Hurricane Sandy, according to the 11-count indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn. She is accused of pocketing money that was to cover a relocation to Staten Island in the wake of the storm. She never actually lived on Staten Island, but instead created fake lease agreements and receipts, forged a landlord's signature on those documents and submitted them to FEMA, which disbursed $24,800 to her.

Court documents claim Harris lied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2012 about the level of damage Hurricane Sandy caused her Coney Island home.

Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, D-Brooklyn, pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon in Brooklyn federal court, where she was arraigned on fraud, conspiracy, witness tampering, false statement and obstruction of justice charges.

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William F. Sweeney, Jr., head of New York's FBI office, said that "when many residents in her district were dealing with the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Harris was busy brewing a storm of her own, one that resulted in her receiving significant payouts by the very federal agency charged with helping those truly in need".

Harris represents Bay Ridge, Beach Haven, Brightwater Towers, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Dyker Heights and nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

According to the indictment, she faces a total of 11 counts: two for wire fraud, one for wire fraud conspiracy, one for disaster relief fraud, three for false statements, two for bankruptcy fraud, one for conspiracy to obstruct justice, and one for witness tempering.

If convicted, Harris faces up to 30 years in prison.

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She is also accused of keeping $23,000 in New York City funds that were meant for Coney Island Generation Gap, a non-profit she once led, and directing two people to lie to FBI investigators when they were interviewed in her case. "This Office and our law enforcement partners are committed to ensuring that those who serve the public are held accountable under the law to the same extent as the people they are privileged to serve", he added.

"She conducted her schemes victimizing the federal and New York City governments, and then obstructed a federal investigation into her crimes while a sitting New York state assemblywoman".

Once the city transferred the funds to CIGG's checking account, taking its balance from $772 to more than $43,000, Harris diverted the amount meant for rent to her personal bank account, according to the indictment.

And she allegedly used other funds to pay her lingerie tab at Victoria's Secret.

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The final scheme described in Tuesday's indictment involves Harris' filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2013 after she owed approximately $60,000 on her mortgage for the Coney Island property.

Assemblywoman from Brooklyn charged in fraud scheme involving Superstorm Sandy funds