Brooklyn Assemblywoman Pamela Harris was arrested Tuesday on federal and city corruption charges, officials said.
Harris, 57, was 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 the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.
Harris, who was elected in 2015, allegedly defrauded City Council, the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development, FEMA, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city’s Build It Back Program and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York.
While head of a Brooklyn nonprofit between August 2015 and July 2015, Harris allegedly used $23,000 intended to rent a studio for personal use in her checking account, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday.
As a sitting assemblywoman between July 2015 and January 2017, Harris allegedly committed the same rent scheme, using $11,400 of discretionary funding for personal use.
Harris allegedly defrauded $25,000 from FEMA between 2012 and 2014 by falsely claiming she had been displaced from her Coney Island home by Hurricane Sandy. She submitted fake leases to FEMA for a temporary home in Staten Island though she remained in her primary residence, according to the indictment.
In 2016, as a state assemblywoman, she submitted those fake documents to the city’s Build it Back Program to obtain additional assistance for “substantial construction to her home,” the indictment said.
Harris is accused of using some of the fraudulent funds to buy $10,000 worth of airline and cruise tickets for herself and her husband, make online payments to Victoria’s Secret and Kohl’s.
Harris also filed for false bankruptcy protection in 2013, officials said.
According to officials, after Harris became aware of a grand jury investigation into her alleged fraud schemes early last year, she told witnesses to lie to FBI investigators, “which the witnesses did,” according to the indictment.
“At a time when many residents in her district were dealing with the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Harris was busy brewing a storm of her own, one that resulted in her receiving significant payouts by the very federal agency charged with helping those truly in need,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office. “As if these allegations weren’t enough, Harris allegedly obstructed a federal investigation into the matters at hand, asking others to lie on her behalf, as alleged. These types of crimes threaten the financial stability of our local and federal governments, but when a public official is involved, even more is at risk. Today we are proud to put an end to this inexcusable scheme.”
Harris represents Bay Ridge, Beach Haven, Brightwater Towers, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Dyker Heights and nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
If convicted, she faces 30 years in prison on one of the FEMA charges, 20 years on each wire fraud, conspiracy, witness tampering or obstruction of justice charges and five years on each bankruptcy fraud and false statement charges.