August 27, 2012; Source: Times Union

Yesterday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an indictment against New York State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) for “falsifying business records, conspiracy and tampering” with an investigation related to an alleged “scheme to steal taxpayer dollars using a sham not-for-profit that did not provide services to the public.” Huntley reportedly founded the nonprofit Parent Workshop Inc. in 2006 and directed $30,000 in “member item funds” (the New York equivalent of an earmark) to it in 2008. However, according to a statement released by Schneiderman’s office, that money was redirected to Huntley’s aide and her niece who allegedly “submitted fraudulent documents” and then “pocketed approximately $29,950” rather than using the funds to deliver the programs the funding was intended for.

At a press conference announcing the indictment, Schneiderman reportedly held up a form allegedly put together by Huntley and others to indicate that Parent Workshop Inc. had provided programming to the Southern Queens Park Association, but Schneiderman said that such programming was never delivered. In response to the indictment, state Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson has removed Huntley from committee ranking and leadership positions. Before the indictment was made public, Huntley said that she is innocent.

If the allegations against Huntley and the others are true, however, this would be another in a long line of cases we’ve seen, both on the federal and the state level, where a legislator has directed funds to a nonprofit that he or she is connected to in one way or another. Not all of these cases involve allegations of criminality, but even those instances of nepotism that are technically legal seem shady to many observers. Having seen versions of this story over and over again (another New York legislator, the recently-convicted Pedro Espada, Jr., comes to mind), perhaps it’s time for some bright line legislative solutions on the state and federal level. –Mike Keefe-Feldman