Secretly Recorded State Senator in The Bronx Says She Did Nothing Wrong
EDENWALD — State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat who represents parts of Mount Vernon and the north Bronx, was one of seven elected officials secretly recorded by another lawmaker at the request of federal investigators, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.
Hassell-Thompson, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, defended her record in a statement released late Wednesday and insisted that the recordings would reveal no misconduct on her part.
“My record is above reproach,” she said. “I am certain, as are my colleagues and my constituents, that the government's investigation has already cleared my name and affirmed my credibility.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI directed ex-state Sen. Shirley Huntley to invite six state senators, one city councilman and two political aides to her house at different times last summer and record their conversations, according to the documents.
Huntley, who has pleaded guilty to corruption charges, had agreed to work with the federal agents. They asked her to make the recordings after she “advised them that she had knowledge of what she believed to be corruption involving public officials,” the documents said.
Eight of the nine people Huntley recorded are now targets of criminal investigations, according to Brooklyn federal prosecutors.
In her statement, Hassell-Thompson said she was "perplexed" to learn she had been recorded, "having devoted my entire life to public service, with integrity and purpose."
She acknowledged having lunch with Huntley last year, but said the two spoke "in general, about matters including our health and our families.”
“At no time — past or present — did we discuss anything inappropriate, improper or illegal,” she said.
News of the secret recordings follows the revelation last month that ex-Assemblyman Nelson Castro of The Bronx wore a wiretap for prosecutors, which led to the arrest of Bronx state Assemblyman Eric Stevenson and others.
The targets of Huntley’s audio and visual recordings were named in a memorandum from her lawyer to the Brooklyn Federal Court where she is to be sentenced Thursday for fraud.
The memo, which detailed Huntley’s work with investigators, was unsealed Wednesday. It named a half-dozen state senators.
"This is an extremely trying time in Albany," Mike Murphy, the Senate Democrats' spokesman, said in a statement. "If any charges are brought the conference will take appropriate action."
Some observers cautioned against rushing to judgment about those recorded, since prosecutors have yet to bring charges against them all. (Two of the senators on the list face criminal charges in separate cases.)
“I would take all these names with a grain of salt,” said Michael Benjamin, a public affairs consultant and former Bronx state assemblyman.
Benjamin added that he had met Hassell-Thompson in Albany and, “I never got the impression from her that she was motivated by money or anything of the kind.”
Some Democrats seemed as distraught by the ongoing investigations as they are by the corruption the inquiries are meant to uncover.
“To let these investigations linger on and on does a disservice to the public,” said one Democratic operative. “If you got something, arrest these folks. Don’t let them hang around and represent people.”
Hassell-Thompson, who lives in Mount Vernon, served in the city council there before her election to the state Senate in 2000, according to her official biography. In the past, she worked as a nurse and counselor at the Mount Vernon Hospital and was president of a real estate development company, the biography said.
Walter Pofeldt, a Bronx resident and freelance news photographer, said he photographed and occasionally spoke with Hassell-Thompson at numerous public events over the years.
“Although I don’t know her personally,” Pofeldt said, “I just got the impression that she’s a pretty straight arrow.”
The Rev. Charles Adeyanju, pastor at Grace of God Church in Edenwald, echoed that sentiment.
Adeyanju’s storefront church sits adjacent to Hassell-Thompson’s district office at 959 E. 233rd St. The pastor said the senator and her staff had been “good neighbors.”
“I will be really surprised,” if Hassell-Thompson is accused of any wrongdoing, Adeyanju said, “because I’m not seeing anything to the contrary that she’s a nice lady.”