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Jose Peralta's Role in FBI Probe Brings Attention to Seat's History

 State Sen. Jose Peralta was caught in the federal government's wire probe.
State Sen. Jose Peralta was caught in the federal government's wire probe.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

QUEENS — Memories of political corruption are none-too-distant in Jackson Heights and Corona.

In 2009, State Sen. Hiram Monserrate was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend, and he became the first politician in almost 100 years to be expelled from the state Senate.

That conviction was followed by a fraud investigation of Monserrate, and another conviction in December, for routing $100,000 in City Council discretionary funds to a nonprofit organization he controlled and allegedly using the money to fund his 2006 New York State Senate campaign.

Now, the man who took over Monserrate's seat in the state Senate may face a federal investigation.

Court documents released on Wednesday revealed that Jackson Heights State Sen. Jose Peralta was one of nine people caught on a wire worn by disgraced politician Shirley Huntley. Eight of those people are now targets of criminal investigations, officials said.

 Former New York state senator and Queens city councilman Hiram Monserrate was sentenced to two years in prison for fraud in December 2012.
Former New York state senator and Queens city councilman Hiram Monserrate was sentenced to two years in prison for fraud in December 2012.
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“I am confident that the authorities will find, if they have not already done so, that I have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever,” Peralta said in a press release on Wednesday afternoon.

Peralta, who plans on running for Queens borough president this year, previously faced media scrutiny in 2010, in the runup to the special election to replace Monserrate.

In a story similar to that of Monserrate, a Daily News report at the time alleged that Peralta directed more than $500,000 in taxpayer money to an inactive nonprofit, which reportedly never filed tax records, had no employees and was inactive for years.

The allegation never resulted in any charges, and in February, Peralta told DNAinfo New York that the situation was a misunderstanding.

"The bottom line is I funded several great not-for-profits in the area that have done great work," Peralta said in an interview at the time. "This one in particular wasn't just funded by me, but it was funded by Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Congressman Joe Crowley, and it did great work for several years.

"Unfortunately, the ex-director got ill and couldn't maintain it anymore, so eventually the funding stopped, and once the funding stops it goes out of business," Peralta added.

In addition to Peralta, others caught on the Huntley tapes include State Sens. Eric Adams, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, John Sampson, Malcolm Smith and Velmanette Montgomery; Councilman Ruben Willis; Melvin Lowe, a former consultant for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; and Curtis Taylor, a former press advisor to Smith, according to court documents.

None of them have been arrested or accused of any wrongdoing.

Federal officials did not immediately reveal who was part of the investigation, but Wills on Wednesday afternoon said in a statement that investigators told him he was "not the target of any investigation arising from proceedings involving Shirley Huntley."

Huntley is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Brooklyn Federal Court after pleading guilty to siphoning $87,000 from a sham nonprofit, and she could face 18 to 24 months in prison.

The court document, a memorandum from Huntley requesting leniency because of her cooperation with FBI agents, was originally sealed, but a judge ruled Tuesday that it be made public when news outlets including DNAinfo New York made requests.

According to the documents, Huntley met with federal agents over a period of six months. She agreed to work with the agents by inviting officials to her home last summer, where she recorded them. The nine people were also photographed by federal agents, documents show.

Two of the senators on the list are currently facing criminal charges in separate cases. Last month Smith was indicted in Manhattan Federal Court on fraud charges. Earlier this week Brooklyn federal prosecutors charged Sampson with embezzling $440,000 from foreclosure funds.