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February 13, 2013

Comptroller DiNapoli and A.G. Schneiderman Announce Felony Plea of Former Senator Shirley Huntley

Covered up $30K In Taxpayer-Funded Services Never Performed Sen. Huntley Devised Fake Letter To Falsely Show That They Were

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that former New York Senator Shirley L. Huntley has pleaded guilty to Tampering with Physical Evidence, an E Felony, for falsifying evidence in an effort to obstruct the investigation into the theft of a grant she sponsored for a sham non-profit entity, the Parent Workshop.
 
As part of their Joint Task Force on Public Integrity, the Offices of the Attorney General and State Comptroller previously indicted then-Senator Huntley and three individuals associated with the Parent Workshop, Inc., a nonprofit set up by former Senator Huntley that funneled member item funds intended to benefit the public to the senator’s aide and to the senator's niece. According to the state’s indictment, the president and treasurer of the Parent Workshop submitted fraudulent documents to New York State to obtain public money from a legislative member item sponsored by Senator Huntley. Instead of providing the promised programs, the two defendants pocketed approximately $29,950. Senator Huntley, who created the sham nonprofit and earmarked a member item grant to the entity, was charged with falsifying evidence in an attempt to obstruct the investigation into this theft.
 
An ongoing investigation into the theft revealed that, after learning of the probe into her grant to the Parent Workshop, then-Senator Huntley created a handwritten template for a false, backdated letter designed to fool investigators into believing that the Parent Workshop had conducted workshops, when in fact no such workshops were ever conducted. This letter was submitted to the Attorney General Schneiderman's Office in response to a subpoena issued to the Parent Workshop. As part of her plea, Huntley admitted to her role in this cover-up.

“Former Senator Huntley betrayed the trust of her constituents and her public duty,” Comptroller DiNapoli said. “State officials must be held to the highest standards. My office will continue to work with the Attorney General to investigate wrongdoing and protect taxpayer funds.”

“It is unconscionable that an elected official would deliberately tamper with a law enforcement investigation into the theft of taxpayer dollars," Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Former Senator Huntley’s felony plea sends a strong message that those who abuse their positions to rip off taxpayers and tamper with investigations will be prosecuted. My office’s partnership with the Comptroller is designed to combat such corruption, and we will continue to work tirelessly to protect every penny of taxpayer money during these challenging economic times.”

In cooperation with federal partners, and in light of the fact that Huntley faces an 18-24 month prison sentence, prosecutors recommended a sentence of five years probation in exchange for her felony guilty plea.

Theft and obstruction charges are still pending against Huntley’s co-defendants. The indictment charges Patricia Savage, president of Parent Workshop and Senator Huntley’s aide, and Lynn Smith, the treasurer of Parent Workshop and Senator Huntley's niece, of engaging in a fraudulent scheme to steal member item funds. The defendants falsely claimed that Parent Workshop would use member item funds secured by Senator Huntley to hold workshops for and conduct outreach to parents on the workings of the New York City public school system.
 
Instead, the indictment charges that Savage and Smith never intended to hold any such events and that they falsely asserted in multiple submissions to the New York State Department of State that, from April 2008 through March 2009, the Parent Workshop had held workshops and conducted outreach, when no such workshops were ever held and no such outreach was ever conducted. Based on these submissions, the Department of State paid Parent Workshop $29,950 – the sum the two defendants are charged with stealing. Savage and Smith are each charged with multiple felony counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. The maximum sentence for one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree is 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison.

The indictment also charges that Savage and defendant David R. Gantt conspired with Huntley to create and submit false evidence, in response to a subpoena issued to Parent Workshop by the Attorney General's Office. One piece of that false evidence was the handwritten letter drafted by Senator Huntley that was falsified to make it appear as if Parent Workshop had conducted workshops when, in fact, it did not.
 
The superseding indictment also charges that defendant Gantt falsified records to claim that he was paid in cash for conducting workshops as a consultant. The indictment further charges that he, in fact, never conducted any workshops. Gantt is charged with four counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence, four counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree and one count of Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree. The joint investigation began after contact with the New York State Department of State.
 
Since 1999, the New York State Legislature has distributed more than $900 million through legislative member items to more than 20,000 nonprofit entities.

Investigator Gerard Matheson and Investigative Analyst Brian Selfon of the Investigations Bureau assisted in this case, under the supervision of Supervising Investigator Michael Ward and Chief Dominick Zarrella. Prosecuting the case are Public Integrity Bureau Senior Counsel Emily Bradford, Public Integrity Bureau Assistant Attorney General Jerrold Steigman, and Criminal Prosecutions Bureau Assistant Attorney General Thomas Schellhammer. The investigation was supervised by Public Integrity Bureau Deputy Chief Stacy Aronowitz and Chief William E. Schaeffer, under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan.
 
The joint investigation was conducted the Comptroller’s Bureau of State Expenditures and Legal Services Division’s Investigations Unit.
 
The charges are merely accusations and all remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Anyone with additional information on this matter or any other public corruption is encouraged to contact the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-996-4630 or the Comptroller’s office by dialing the toll-free fraud hotline at 1-888-672-4555; filing a complaint online at investigations@osc.state.ny.us; or mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller Investigations Unit, 110 State Street, 14th floor, Albany, NY 12236.

 

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