BY JORDAN GIBBONS
On Tuesday, Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) became the latest Southeast Queens politician to be arrested and indicted.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Richard Hartunian announced that he allegedly stole campaign funds and falsely collected travel reimbursements.
The 23-count State indictment accuses the Assemblyman of withdrawing and diverting more than $40,000 from the bank account of “Friends of Bill Scarborough” campaign committee and using those funds for personal expenses. The 11-count Federal indictment charges accuses him with improperly claiming “per diem” travel expenses in excess of $40,000 that did not take place.
If convicted on all charges, Scarborough faces 37 years in prison.
“The crimes Mr. Scarborough is accused of committing would represent a shameful breach of the trust his constituents placed in him,” Schneiderman said. “Each time my office arrests a corrupt public official, it sends the message that there must be one set of rules for everyone and no one is above the law, no matter how powerful or well-connected.”
Bank records obtained as part of the investigation showed that between January 2007 and March 2014, Scarborough made numerous withdrawals and transfers from his campaign committee’s account totaling about $38,000. Some of that money was taken out as cash withdrawals and some was transferred into his personal account, according to the indictment and court papers. Scarborough also deposited five checks made payable to “Friends of Bill Scarborough,” totaling $3,450, into his personal bank account.
The State indictment accuses him of spending that money for his own personal use, which violates State election laws.
“Elected officials cannot use taxpayer money or campaign funds as their personal piggy banks,” DiNapoli said. “Assemblyman Scarborough tried to game the system, thinking he could get away with it.”
Scarborough is also being accused of attempting to conceal his illegal conduct by not reporting the withdrawals to the State Board of Elections, as legally required. The money was reportedly never accounted for in the campaign committee’s financial records.
Scarborough’s attorney, E. Stewart Jones, said that the authorities took every record when they raided his home, office and hotel room in March and they do not have any copies of the documents used to indict the Assemblyman. However, he does not believe the State indictment can be supported by the evidence that was obtained.
“There was no theft here,” Jones said. “The documents were never filed by him. He didn’t file them, create them, complete them.”
Jones said that Scarborough’s office filed the paperwork and he did not sign off on any of it.
Overall, the State indictment charges him with two felony counts of grand larceny and 21 felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing.
The Federal indictment charges him with allegedly submitting 174 false reimbursement vouchers for per diem expenses, mileage and tolls between January 2009 and December 2012. Scarborough was also charged with seven counts of wire fraud for directing payment of specific false State travel vouchers to his bank account.
“Today’s indictments demonstrate the commitment of State and Federal authorities to combat fraud and corruption that have plagued our political system,” Hartunian said. “Our elected officials are expected to safeguard the integrity of their office and follow all the rules. When they fail to do so, law enforcement will respond.”
Jones said that the Federal indictment will be determined by Scarborough’s schedule and they do not believe the Federal prosecutors considered matching that with the travel expenses.
“He’s quite sure that once they’ve reviewed and explained the documents, he will be innocent,” Jones said. “If there is money due back, he will reimburse it. Nothing was done intentionally.”
Local elected leaders also reacted to Scarborough’s arrest this week.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said that he believes people are innocent until proven guilty.
“I think that the cloak of innocence is important,” he said. “He’s a hard-working individual and we’ll let the justice system play out.”
Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said that Scarborough’s arrest is disappointing for Southeast Queens, but he hopes to see the Assemblyman exonerated once the case unfolds.
“Bill Scarborough is an intelligent, long-serving and dedicated public servant. The incident, which occurred yesterday, is unfortunate and brings grief to our community,” he said. “We must let the facts in this case come out before commenting further. It is my sincere hope that after due process the Assembly member will be absolved.”
Reach Reporter Jordan Gibbons at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jgibbons2.