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Brooklyn Assemblywoman Pamela Harris indicted in fraud schemes

An 11-count indictment charges Assemb. Harris with defrauding government agencies out of tens of thousands of dollars and tampering with witnesses.

State Assemb. Pamela Harris exits a federal courthouse

State Assemb. Pamela Harris exits a federal courthouse in Brooklyn after being indicted on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

State Assemb. Pamela Harris has been indicted on charges related to multiple fraud schemes and obstruction of justice, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Harris, 57, of Brooklyn, represents Bay Ridge, Coney Island, Dyker Heights and other nearby communities, and is charged with two counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of making false statements, two counts of bankruptcy fraud, one count of witness tampering and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to an 11-count indictment unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn.

Harris faces arraignment Tuesday before a U.S. magistrate in federal court in Brooklyn.

“As alleged in the indictment, the defendant defrauded government agencies out of tens of thousands of dollars in public funds and tried to fraudulently obtain even more,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Richard Donoghue. said in a statement released Tuesday. “She conducted her schemes victimizing the federal and New York City governments, and then obstructed a federal investigation into her crimes while a sitting New York State assemblywoman. When she learned that law enforcement was investigating her various fraud schemes, she pressured witnesses to lie to the FBI and cover them up . . . ”

The schemes date to August 2014, when Harris served as the executive director of a not-for-profit organization called Coney Island Generation Gap, authorities said.

Between that August and the following July, authorities said, Harris defrauded the City Council out of almost $23,000 in so-called discretionary funding by “falsely claiming that the not-for-profit would use the funds to rent a studio space,” according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

As part of that scheme, authorities said, Harris submitted a forged lease agreement to the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development. She then “diverted funds to her personal checking account” and “used the money to pay personal expenses,” the DOJ said.

Between July 2015 and last January, authorities said Harris “committed a nearly identical scheme” while she was a state assemblywoman. During that time, the DOJ said, Harris diverted $11,400 in fraudulently acquired funds for personal use.

Additionally, authorities said Harris defrauded FEMA out of nearly $25,000 in funds, claiming she’d been forced from her Coney Island residence as a result of superstorm Sandy.

She also submitted “fake documents” to the New York City Build it Back program to obtain financial assistance, making other false claims for funding used to make what authorities called “substantial construction to her home,” prosecutors said.

In November 2013, the DOJ said Harris filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection — all while receiving $1,550 a month from FEMA as a result of the prior ongoing fraud and making misleading and untrue statements to the bankruptcy trustee.

Once Harris became aware of the federal investigation in 2017, the DOJ said she “instructed witnesses to lie to FBI agents” who were conducting the grand jury investigation.

Those witnesses did lie, the DOJ said.

If convicted, Harris faces a maximum of 30 years in prison on one of the charges of making false statements to FEMA, as well as a maximum of 20 years on each charge of wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, witness tampering and obstruction.

She also faces 5 years if convicted on each of the bankruptcy fraud and charges of making false statements, authorities said.

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