APRIL 29, 2008
City Council members in New York have legally steered millions of tax dollars to relatives, spouses and friends thanks to a city measure that grants lawmakers large slush funds to be spent however they please.
Each of New York’s 51 council members gets a chunk of cash that can be spent at the discretion of the council member. Ideally, the money is supposed to provide valuable community services but no one bothers to follow up, leaving the system rife with fraud, corruption and conflict of interest.
So far, at least seven of the city’s 51 lawmakers have been caught distributing millions of public dollars to relatives, spouses and friends. One lawmaker, Larry Seabrook of the Bronx, actually gave nearly $1 million to a suspicious group—Bronx African American Chamber of Commerce—with the same address as his office.
A pair of councilmen from Manhattan and Queens, each gave questionable nonprofits $400,000. One group was operated by the lawmaker’s top aides and the other featured the councilman’s sister on the board of directors. A Brooklyn Councilman gave $356,000 to a nonprofit operated by his chief of staff, who got caught embezzling $145,000 and another Brooklyn councilman gave a group that employs his wife nearly $200,000.
Incredibly, the council’s speaker acknowledges that some of the council’s so-called discretionary funds were assigned to fake nonprofits to hold the money for future distribution to real groups. A local paper sums the scandal up quite well, writing in an editorial that “the stench of waste, fraud and corruption wafting out of the City Council grows ranker by the day….”
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