Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Former Sen. Monserrate Charged with Fraud
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Former Queens state senator Hiram Monserrate is once again in trouble with the law. Federal prosecutors say he took taxpayer money meant for a non-profit to fund his personal senate campaign in 2006.
An indictment unsealed Tuesday morning charges Monserrate with mail fraud and conspiracy, alleging that he directed $300,000 of public funds when he was a city councilman to a non-profit called the Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment, or LIBRE. Prosecutors say he used at least $109,000 to pay for campaign workers, voter registration drives and door-to-door canvassing in his unsuccessful 2006 primary bid.
"Not guilty," Monserrate said quietly in Manhattan federal court when Judge Colleen McMahon asked him how he wanted to plead to the two corruption counts. His parents sat expressionless behind him. Monserrate hadn't bothered to tuck in his rumpled white shirt or button up his French cuffs as he listened to Judge McMahon release him on a $500,000 bond secured by his parents' New York City home.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference announcing the charges that Monserrate had used LIBRE has his own "political piggybank."
"No campaign should ever be funded by fraud," said Bharara. "Public officials who act like they're above the law may get away with it for awhile, but we will find you and we will prosecute you."
The former executive director of LIBRE pleaded guilty Monday to mail fraud and is cooperating with the investigation, Bharara said.
After the arraignment, defense lawyer Joe Tacopina said Monserrate will prove to be innocent.
"You know, obviously, he's disappointed to have to go through the process again and to be here," said Tacopina. "He's had a rough couple of years, and would like to sort of get on with his life and he's going do it."
Monserrate was convicted last October of assaulting his girlfriend Karla Giraldo in a highly publicized trial. Prosecutors in Queens charged Monserrate with felony assault, alleging he intentionally slashed her face with broken glass. But the state judge convicted him of only reckless assault -- a misdemeanor -- for forcefully dragging Giraldo through his apartment building lobby when she was bleeding. He was sentenced to three years of probation.
After his sentencing, Monserrate was kicked out of the state Senate in February on a 53-8 vote. Monserrate sued unsuccessfully in federal court to get his seat back, and then tried running for his seat in a special election in March. He lost to former Assemblyman Jose Peralta. In September, he ran an unsuccessful campaign to become the Democratic nominee for the Assembly seat in Jackson Heights.
Monserrate now faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the two federal counts against him. His next court appearance will be in early December.