MANHATTAN (CN) – Former New York state Senator Hiram Monserrate on Tuesday was charged with funneling more than $100,000 in New York City discretionary funds into his failed election bid to the state Senate in 2006. Monserrate ran unopposed in 2008 in the state Senate’s 13th District, only to be expelled the next year after being convicted of assaulting his girlfriend.
At a press conference in his office U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that Monserrate, then a city councilman, “outsourced much of his campaign” to LIBRE, a Queens-based nonprofit whose acronym stands for the Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment. LIBRE’s former executive director Javier Cardenas pleaded guilty on Monday to corruption charges, Bharara added.
Bharara said that Monserrate had a “hand-in-glove” relationship with LIBRE, awarding it about $300,000 in discretionary funds and having it spend about $109,000 of that on his voter registration drive, petition drive and canvassing and employee salaries and payments.
The unsealed indictment states: “LIBRE used these funds to pay workers to go door-to-door and register voters, focusing, at Monserrate’s direction, on the electoral district in which Monserrate ran for Senate in 2006.”
Although workers told voters they would submit the applications to the New York City Board of Elections, they used the information to keep a database with their names and contact information at Monserrate’s direction and for his benefit, the indictment states.
“In the summer of 2006, LIBRE sent databases containing the names and contact information for over 1,000 Queens residents gathered through its voter registration drive to members of Monserrate’s campaign team,” the indictment states.
Bharara said that “1,000 voter registrations was significant” because the election was won – or, for Monserrate, lost – by a narrow margin.
The databases gave him “an advantage by being the only candidate aware that these particular people would be eligible to vote in the 2006 primary election and that they should be targeted with campaign messages,” according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that an unnamed co-conspirator submitted an expense report in June 2006 indicating that LIBRE was paying employees for “stipend” work, when they were actually helping the Monserrate campaign.
One reporter questioned the timing of the indictment, pointing out that the alleged conspiracy happened between July 2005 and June 2007.
Bharara denied that it was timed to coincide with the November elections. “We are very careful,” he said. “When we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, we bring an indictment.”
He added that the “investigation is ongoing,” and that other money awarded to LIBRE – nearly $200,000 – continues to be checked for corruption ties.
After he spoke, New York City Department of Investigations Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said the abuse of nonprofit organizations in political corruption cases is so widespread that her department created a unit to tackle the problem. She said Monserrate was the third councilman prosecuted.
“Rooting out public corruption is a top priority for our office,” Hearn said.
“Worthy nonprofits are supposed to have access to public money because they are meant to be a resource for communities, not a piggy bank for politicians,” Bharara said in a statement.Monserrate is charged with mail fraud and conspiracy. Each count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.