The day after state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) pleaded not guilty to interfering with a state probe into an alleged scam to bilk taxpayers out of nearly $30,000, her Democratic Party primary challengers called on the three-term incumbent to step down from office.
Huntley, 74, pleaded not guilty in Nassau County Monday to two felony charges and one misdemeanor charge in what state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli called an attempt to cover up “a scheme to steal taxpayer dollars using a sham not-for-profit that did not provide services to the public.”
In December, Schneiderman’s office indicted Patricia Savage, a Huntley aide, and Lynn Smith, the senator’s niece, on charges of submitting false documents to the state in order to misappropriate about $29,950 in state legislative member items that Huntley had steered to Parent Workshop Inc., her Nassau-based nonprofit.
Savage, the nonprofit’s president, and Smith, its treasurer, claimed the public funds would be used to conduct workshops to help parents navigate the city’s public school system. According to the attorney general, Parent Workshop never provided those services.
Another defendant, David Gantt, was charged at the time with falsifying documents to make it appear is if he were paid in cash for the phony workshops.
Months went by and Huntley tried to distance herself from the charges, pointing out she had not been accused of misconduct.
That all changed this week when Schneiderman and DiNapoli issued a joint indictment against Huntley, charging she drew up the template for ?a false, backdated letter to the AG’s office in response to a subpoena designed to make it seem as if the nonprofit had actually conducted the workshops.
Huntley was charged with tampering with physical evidence, falsifying business records and conspiracy. If convicted, she would be automatically removed from office and faces a maximum of four years in jail.??
As a result of the scandal, Huntley was removed from her leadership role as chairwoman of the Senate Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee.
She is next scheduled to be in Nassau court ?Sept. 14, one day after the Democratic primary, in which she faces challenges from City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and Rockaway resident Gian Jones.
Sanders held a news conference Tuesday morning on the steps of the Queens County Courthouse, where he called the scandal a “personal tragedy” for Huntley and her family and called on the senator to step down from office.
“I believe that Sen. Huntley cares deeply about our community,” he said. “I believe that she wants the people of southeast Queens to have a strong voice in the Senate, one who will advocate tirelessly on their behalf without the distraction of scandal or the difficulties of a mounting legal defense.”
“This is why today with great regret I am calling on Sen. Shirley Huntley to take the high road. Step aside so that a new voice can take over and you can deal with the legal problems that you’re dealing with,” he added.
Earlier this month, Sanders received the endorsement of the politically influential the Rev. Floyd Flake. The councilman said “character” was one of the main things Flake looked at when he gave his backing.
“His decision was verified yesterday,” Sanders said.
In a phone interview, Jones said it would be best for Huntley to step down from her office.
“The charges are serious and will be time-consuming. The question really is can Sen. Huntley effectively profess her innocence while also effectively representing the new 10th Senatorial District,” he said.
“At the very least, it would be irresponsible to continue with her candidacy until she’s found innocent,” he added.