Long Beach councilman's trial goes to jury
Prosecutors in Michael Fagen's larceny trial said in closing arguments Tuesday that the Long Beach councilman knowingly set about to "lie and cheat and steal" from the state when he illegally applied for unemployment benefits.
Fagen's defense attorney said in his final statement that his client's case belongs in civil court, and the two-week criminal trial was "inappropriate" from the start.
Fagen, a Democrat, faces 40 criminal charges stemming from his collection of more than $15,000 in unemployment benefits between January and September 2010 while serving as a city councilman. The jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon and will reconvene Wednesday.
Fagen's attorney, Marc Gann of Mineola, did not dispute that Fagen collected the money. But, he said, Fagen was entitled to unemployment benefits because his work as a councilman is part-time. "They want you to believe he's a double-dipper, much the way you read about school administrators who retire and who take a pension and go back to the same job," Gann said of Fagen, who earns about $20,000 per year as a councilman.
Prosecutor Marshall Trager said Fagen's work is full-time; Long Beach officials have agreed with that position.
"The councilman was working essentially every day," Trager said. "That work needs to be reported and will disqualify someone like the defendant from unemployment benefits."
Fagen faces felony charges of third-degree grand larceny, petty larceny and 38 counts of offering a false instrument for filing. He faces up to 7 years in prison if convicted.
During closing statements, Gann criticized prosecutors for calling witnesses who did not work with Fagen during the time of the alleged crimes. The prosecutors called current city Comptroller Jeff Nogid but not former Comptroller Sandra Clarson, a political enemy of Fagen, Gann said. Gann also chided prosecutors for not calling another Fagen rival, former City Manager Charles Theofan, who now works as a deputy Nassau County executive.
Gann likened the witnesses to Rhoda Morgenstern, a character on "The Mary Tyler Moore" Show who worked as a window dresser.
"Nothing more than window dressing," he said.
Trager brushed off the criticism. "This case is not about who wasn't called," he said.