Seven Elected Officials Caught in Federal Wire Probe
NEW YORK CITY — She used a bum foot to lure politicians into a federal wire trap.
Last summer ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley secretly recorded seven elected officials, a former aide and a political operative in her South Jamaica home, inviting them over under the ruse that an injured foot made it difficult to travel, according to sources and a court document.
The nine caught on tape are state senators Eric Adams, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Jose Peralta, John Sampson, Malcolm Smith and Velmanette Montgomery; City Councilman Ruben Wills; Melvin Lowe, a former political consultant; and Curtis Taylor, an ex-Smith press adviser, the court paper shows.
Eight are now targets of criminal investigations, Brooklyn federal prosecutors have said, but none of them have been accused of any wrongdoing.
Wills said in a statement that investigators told him that he is not the subject of a probe.
The names were revealed in a sentencing memorandum connected to Huntley's criminal case that was unsealed Wednesday afternoon.
Huntley, 74, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty in January to mail fraud for siphoning $87,000 from a sham nonprofit. In the run-up to her sentencing, her lawyer submitted the memorandum seeking leniency, citing Huntley's cooperation with FBI agents looking into public corruption.
The memorandum had been under seal, but a judge ruled Tuesday that it should be made public after news outlets, including DNAinfo New York, made the request.
The document details how after being busted, Huntley met with federal agents over a six-month period and told them that she knew of corruption involving elected officials.
Huntley agreed to record certain officials she invited to her modest two-bedroom South Jamaica home, where she lived with her husband, a retired guidance counselor.
She lured the targets over by claiming her broken foot kept her incapacitated, according to sources. She also suffers from sciatica and regularly takes cortisone injections to reduce inflammation in her spine, according to the memorandum.
"She said she had a broken foot but she was wired up the whole time," said the source. "Nobody thought anything of it because she's an old lady."
All nine were recorded and photographed by federal agents, according to the memorandum.
Two of the senators on the list have already been charged in separate cases. Earlier this week Brooklyn federal prosecutors charged Sampson with embezzling $440,000 from foreclosure funds.
Last month Smith was indicted in Manhattan Federal Court on fraud charges.
Smith's lawyer, Jerry Shargel, said the St. Albans former Democratic majority leader talked to Huntley many times last summer but didn't commit any crime.
"He absolutely did have a conversation with her last summer. He had many conversations with her last summer. They're colleagues. There was nothing wrong with it. There was nothing unethical about it," Shargel said.
When asked if he expected further charges against his client, Shargel said, "No, I don't expect further charges against my client."
Initially, staff at Adams campaign office said that he was in Albany, but the New York Post then spoke to him at his Brooklyn home on Wednesday afternoon. He later released a statement about the probe.
“I have not been contacted about any investigation. I believe deeply in transparency and the pursuit of justice—and that is why I committed 20 years of my life to law enforcement," Adams said in a statement. "I am more than willing to help with any investigation.”
Lowe, a Harlem political consultant who worked for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's aborted 2002 campaign for governor, did not respond to a request for comment.
A source with close ties to Albany said many were not surprised to find Lowe involved in a federal investigation.
"You never knew where he was getting his money from or how he got his job as a consultant for the Democrats," the source said. "You never knew how he got his job. There were always questions. That's why no one is surprised."
Lowe was not immediately reached.
Huntley's memorandum characterizes Lowe as a former consultant for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. But the attorney general's office — which indicted Huntley last August on charges of falsifying records — said Lowe never worked for him.
"Shirley Huntley’s reference to him in her sentencing statement appears to be an attempt at retaliation against Attorney General Schneiderman, who has never hired Melvin Lowe or used his services," Schneiderman spokesman Damien LaVera said in a statement.
It's the second time in the past month that Schneiderman's name has popped up in a criminal investigation.
Shady upstate real estate developer Moses Stern worked a cooperating witness in a federal probe that took down Smith. Stern, who also pleaded guilty to criminal charges, was political kingmaker who helped secure the vote for Schneiderman in the tightknit Satmar Hasidic community in Monsey, N.Y.
In a statement Wills said his attorney had been in contact with federal investigators.
"[My attorney] has been informed that I am not the target of any investigation arising from proceedings involving Shirley Huntley," the Queens councilman said. "I have personally not been contacted by any law enforcement officials to date and I look forward to continuing the work of the people of southeast Queens that elected me."
Peralta, who represents Jackson Heights, Queens, and is running for borough president, said he would be vindicated.
“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 in a statement.
An aide at Montgomery's office defended her boss Wednesday afternoon.
“We have every confidence that the senator we work for is an honorable woman,” the Brooklyn pol's staffer said.
Hassell-Thompson, of The Bronx, released a statement saying she was "perplexed" to see her name mentioned in the Huntley memo.
"At no time — past or present — did we discuss anything inappropriate, improper or illegal," Hassell-Thompson said. "My record is above reproach. I am certain, as are my colleagues and my constituents, that the government's investigation has already cleared my name and affirmed my credibility."
Sampson did not immediately return calls for comment.
Taylor, a former Newsday reporter turned flack for Sen. Smith, did not return a call for comment.
According to the Albany Times Union, Taylor was fired from Smith's office for not returning reporters' calls after his boss was overheared making a questionable comment at a golf fundraiser in Wiltwyck Golf Club in Kingston, N.Y.
Smith allegedly told a lobbyist that they should cozy up to him before he starts to consolidate power.
Taylor was allowed to stay on the in Legislature's communications department and keep his $118,000 salary, the Times Union reported.