Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics

FBI raids offices of Queens assemblyman over expenses

Assemb. William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) talks to reporters outside

Assemb. William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) talks to reporters outside his office in Albany on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Scarborough says the FBI has raided his home, hotel and offices in an investigation of his daily expense claims. (Credit: AP / Mike Groll)

ALBANY -- FBI agents raided the offices of state Assemb. William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) Wednesday, questioned him about his travel expenses and removed boxes of records from his office, the lawmaker and federal officials said.

Scarborough, who has held office for 20 years, said agents questioned him for an hour, alleging he "abused the voucher system" for collecting per diem and travel reimbursements for work in Albany when he may have also been in his Queens district. The investigation is the latest in a series of corruption and sexual-harassment scandals in the State Legislature.

Scarborough told reporters that agents first came to him "at 5:45 a.m. this morning" at a Howard Johnson's hotel where he stays while in Albany. He was not arrested, though agents took documents and his mobile phone. They also gathered items from his Queens office and visited his home, he said.

"We had an interview. They presented this information. They wanted me to take responsibility for the allegations. They wanted to know if I wanted to enter into some sort of arrangement where I could give them information about any irregularities that I knew of," said Scarborough, who, after the raid, stood in front of his Albany office within the Legislative Office Building, across the street from the State Capitol fielding waves of media inquiries.

Scarborough said he did nothing wrong and believes agents misunderstand Albany's complex travel voucher system or misrepresented "what I did." The veteran legislator said he has often returned to his district for community meetings and to teach a class in government at Brooklyn College.

"I don't believe I have misrepresented the Assembly and I believe I have acted in accordance with the law," Scarborough said. "I'm innoncent."

In a statement, FBI supervisory special agent Paul Holstein confirmed the agency "executed two search warrants today" at Scarborough's offices in Albany and Queens, removing documents. FBI officials in the agency's Albany office declined to provide any other information about the scope of the investigation.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he had no information about the investigation.

"I have no idea," Silver (D-Manhattan) said when asked about Scarborough's visit by the FBI. "They have not asked us for anything."

Silver added: "It's always disappointing . . . But I believe in the criminal justice system. Whatever comes of it, comes of it."

The assemblyman said agents appeared to want him to provide information about other unidentified legislators. But he said he didn't know of any wrongdoing to report and that put him at a "disadvantage" because he thought he might have not gotten such scrutiny if he provided names.

"And I don't know of any," he said. "I told them that kind of puts me at a disadvantage. If I knew of something, you know, if I could say I talked to so-and-so and we talked about passing money under the table, it could make it easier for me. I don't know of that. I don't."

An analysis by the Empire Center for Public Policy found Scarborough collected the most in travel expenses from among 213 legislators in Albany: $32,492 from April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013, according to the fiscally conservative think tank.

Figures kept by the state comptroller's office show Scarborough collected $28,438 in per diems and other reimbursable expenses in the 2013 calendar year, and $10,349 so far this year.

Assembly members and senators are eligible for a $172 payment per day for work time they spend in Albany or for state work done outside their district. For most legislators outside the Albany area, these payments range from $7,000 to more than $15,000 every six months. Lawmakers get the payment whether they stay at hotels or, as with many veterans, they keep apartments in the Albany area.

The payments are in addition to their base salary of $79,500 a year and any leadership stipends.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday