Memo: Shirley Huntley taped 6 fellow state senators
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Former Queens state Sen. Shirley Huntley taped six fellow Democratic senators from three different boroughs last year at the FBI's behest, according to an unsealed sentencing memo that named names and immediately shook Albany with a new round of questions about corruption.
The FBI on "multiple occasions" recorded and photographed Sens. John Sampson, Eric Adams and Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn, Malcolm Smith and Jose Peralta of Queens and Ruth Hassell-Thompson of the Bronx during arranged visits to Huntley's home, said the memo from Huntley's lawyer released Wednesday.
She also recorded meetings with New York City Councilman Ruben Wills; former Smith press adviser Curtis Taylor, and Melvin Lowe, identified in the memo as a "former political consultant and associate of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman."
Prosecutors have said that eight of the nine are the subjects of ongoing criminal probes, and three of the nine made comments "useful to law enforcement" during the meetings Huntley secretly recorded. But they have not identified which individuals fall into which of those categories, and declined to do so again Wednesday after the names were ordered unsealed in federal court by U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, who will sentence Huntley on embezzlement charges Thursday.
Coming after three recent federal indictments targeting public officials -- including Smith last month and Sampson this week -- the new revelations were termed a "disaster" by political observers, who said that would dash whatever trust the public had left in politicians. "It's more than a straw on a camel's back," said Doug Muzzio, a Baruch College political science professor. "It's a bale of straw."
The naming of the six suggested that 20 percent of the Senate's Democratic delegation may be under investigation. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has pushed for ethics reforms, had no comment after the release of the names of his fellow Democrats, and Senate GOP Majority Leader Dean Skelos also declined to comment. Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Democratic conference, said in a statement, "This is an extremely trying time in Albany. If any charges are brought, the conference will take appropriate action."
Huntley, 74, wore a wire from June through August of last year in a bid for leniency after she was implicated in embezzling money from a nonprofit she founded. The defense sentencing memorandum, which laid out details of her cooperation in hopes of persuading Weinstein to go easy on her, said she worked with the FBI for six months after advising them "of what she believed to be corruption involving public officials." She was asked to "invite certain individuals into her home and record conversations," it said.
Weinstein unsealed the names after requests from Newsday and other news organizations. But all court filings describing the substance of Huntley's conversations and the focus of investigations of the various targets are still under seal.
Smith, a former Senate majority leader, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Manhattan in April to a charge of bribing GOP leaders in New York City to try to get on the mayoral ballot as a Republican. His lawyer, Gerald Shargel, said Wednesday, "There is no question that Malcolm Smith spoke to Shirley Huntley in the summer of 2012 . . . But there was no suggestion, hint or innuendo of criminal conduct on my client's part."
Sampson, a former Democratic conference and minority leader, pleaded not guilty on Monday in federal court in Brooklyn to charges of embezzling $440,000 in escrow funds he oversaw as a court-appointed referee, using the money to pay for a campaign for Brooklyn district attorney, and trying to obstruct a federal probe. He was stripped of committee assignments. His lawyer, Zachary Carter, did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Peralta, a former state assemblyman who became the first Dominican elected to the Senate in 2010, said he was innocent. "I am confident that the authorities will find, if they have not already done so, that I have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever," he said.
Adams, a former NYPD captain, said in a statement, "I have not been contacted about any investigation."
Hassell-Thompson said her discussions with Huntley were innocent and her record was "above reproach."
Wills, a former chief of staff to Huntley, said his lawyer had been told he was "not the target of any investigation arising from proceedings involving Shirley Huntley." He said he would continue serving his constituents.
Montgomery, a former teacher and the secretary of the Democratic Senate Conference, did not comment. Lowe, a longtime insider who has worked as a consultant to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee among others, could not be reached. Attempts to talk to Taylor, a Newsday reporter before he worked for Smith, were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for Schneiderman, a former Democratic senator, said in a strongly worded statement that the AG had indicted Huntley last August on state charges, and described the Huntley memorandum's description linking him to Lowe as a misleading "attempt at retaliation."
Schneiderman "has never hired Melvin Lowe or used his services," the statement said. "He will continue to use every tool at his disposal to ensure New Yorkers have the open and honest government they deserve."
With Anthony M. DeStefano and Ellen Yan
A roster of the secretly recorded
Individuals secretly recorded by former state Sen. Shirley Huntley inthe FBI's investigation into public corruption among elected officials:
Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn)
Indicted Monday on charges of embezzlement and obstruction of justice.
Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens)
Accused in April of bribing GOP leaders in Queens and the Bronx in exchange for entry into that party's primary for New York City mayor.
Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn)
Elected in 2006 after 22 years in the New York City Police Department.
Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx/Westchester)
First elected in 2000 after serving on the Mount Vernon City Council, including as president and acting mayor.
Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, (D-Brooklyn)
First elected in 1984. Ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Children and Families. She is secretary for the Senate Democratic Conference.
Sen. Jose Peralta, (D-Queens)
In a 2010 special election, became the first Dominican-American elected to the state Senate. Ranking Democrat on the Labor Committee. State assemblyman from 2002 to 2010.
New York City Councilman Rubin Wills
Formerly Huntley's chief of staff. Elected in a 2010 special election after the death of Thomas White Jr.
Democratic political consultant
Former press adviser for Smith. He is a former Newsday reporter.