BY JACKSON CHEN | An Upper East Side attorney is working to deny a controversial City Council candidate his public campaign funds with allegations of fraud and grand larceny.
Sarah Steiner, an attorney specializing in election law, filed a formal complaint against District 7 candidate Thomas Lopez-Pierre with the Campaign Finance Board on July 14. Steiner’s complaint seeks to have the CFB deny the candidate any “matching funds” under the city’s public campaign finance program in which the agency provides candidates with a six-to-one match on up to $175 in private contributions from New York City residents.
According to the latest campaign finance reports, Lopez-Pierre has raised $16,390, and he said he expects close to $100,000 in matching funds.
The candidate, who is challenging incumbent Mark Levine in the district that runs from the Upper West Side through Harlem into Washington Heights, has on numerous occasions targeted “Greedy Jewish Landlords” who he said are pushing out “Black /Hispanic tenants,” but he has recently opted, in his tweets and email blasts, for describing his targets instead simply as “Greedy Landlords.”
The source of Steiner’s complaint, however, is not the anti-Semitism in some of Lopez-Pierre’s messaging but rather allegations of fraudulent fundraising by him.
According to her submission, which references two Manhattan Express articles (here and here), Steiner claims that Lopez-Pierre broke CFB rules and election law through a phony GoFundMe campaign that sprouted up in April.
A fundraising page named “Stop Thomas Lopez Pierre Hate Campaign” had raised $5,871 before its funds were frozen after an April 26 New York Post article, in which Lopez-Pierre was quoted claiming he was responsible for the page and would use money collected for his “marketing expenses.”
A few days later, the candidate told Manhattan Express that he was lying to the tabloid in an attempt to scramble the opposition mounting against him. When asked again on July 20, Lopez-Pierre reiterated that he was not behind the GoFundMe and had lied to the Post as “a stunt to get publicity.”
Steiner’s complaint revolves around the GoFundMe debacle and claims that Lopez-Pierre committed fraud, failed to disclose the money, and impersonated someone to raise funds.
“If he were able to get away with the kind of fraud he seems to have committed, he would be undermining the public confidence in the best public campaign finance system in America,” Steiner said. “Also, I didn’t feel like someone who was fraudulently trying to game the system like this deserves taxpayer dollars.”
The matching funds have yet to be doled out, as Lopez-Pierre is still awaiting certification to get on the September primary ballot and is currently facing petition challenges, he said.
Steiner is hoping her complaint will prevent the funds from ever reaching Lopez-Pierre.
“It’s much easier to object to the release of the matching funds before than trying to get it back afterwards,” Steiner told Manhattan Express.
Lopez-Pierre said he received the complaint but argued that Steiner’s complaint was littered with “emotional pleas” and would get thrown out.
“She has presented no evidence that links me to the individuals or individual that set up this GoFundMe campaign,” Lopez-Pierre said. “Her whole argument is an attack on my freedom of speech.
In a complaint alleging fraud and grand larceny, Steiner said she provided all the evidence available to her. When asked if she thought this would become a criminal matter, the attorney said the CFB is free to pursue the case in any way it sees fit.
A spokesperson for the CFB said the agency cannot comment on ongoing investigations, and GoFundMe could not be reached for comment by press time.