Former Brooklyn Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, who admitted she defrauded the government in multiple scams, including a false claim that she was a superstorm Sandy victim, was sentenced to 6 months in prison Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court.
Harris, 58, of Coney Island, showed no visible reaction when U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein handed down the sentence, which also calls for 3 years of supervised release and 400 hours of community service to be performed after she serves her time.
The judge noted that Harris should be incarcerated for the “serious” crimes she committed, which also include witness tampering, but rejected the 33- to 41-month sentence prosecutors had asked for, saying it was was "too severe."
"A long incarceratory guideline sentence might well destroy defendant’s ability to rejoin her free community and to exercise her capacity for helping people," Weinstein said.
In weighing his decision, the judge said he took into consideration factors that included Harris’ age, her contributions to her community, and her ability to pull herself up after the death of her four-year-old daughter by getting off crack cocaine, going back to school, and becoming a correctional officer.
“In view of the defendant’s unique, tragic personal history, her extraordinary capacity for rehabilitation, and the important role she can serve in her community, as well as the fact that her crimes were not committed with the power of her public office, a term of imprisonment longer than six months is not required,” Weinstein said.
Harris’ punishment came on the same day that another ex-politician, Dean Skelos, was sentenced on federal corruption charges for using his clout in the State Senate to help his son get work worth $300,000 in fees and pay.
Harris, who is scheduled to surrender on Dec. 4 to begin serving her prison term, declined to comment Wednesday as she left the courthouse accompanied by her husband and lawyers.
“While any sentence of incarceration is painful, we are grateful for Judge Weinstein’s thoughtful and fair consideration of all the relevant factors in this case,” Joel Cohen, one of Harris’ attorneys, said in a statement. “Ms. Harris looks forward to putting this all behind her and continuing to help people as she has always done.”
Harris pleaded guilty to various crimes, including witness tampering, in June.
A Democrat elected to the state Assembly in 2015, Harris admitted she illegally obtained funds that federal prosecutors said were set aside to help vulnerable and needy New Yorkers, including children. She took part in the scams from 2012 to 2017, before and while she served in the New York State Assembly.
In one scam that netted Harris $25,000, she admitted that she defrauded the Federal Emergency Management Agency by falsely claiming she had to move because of storm damage.
In two other schemes, Harris admitted she pocketed more than $45,000 in money that she received from the City Council to lease space for her nonprofit, Coney Island Generation Gap. Prosecutors said she used the money for personal purposes, including for mortgage payments on her residence and installation of a hot tub and sauna.
Harris was charged in January and resigned her seat in April.