Smith attorney quits as federal probe intensifies

Joan Flowers (inset l.) left her position as a counsel for the state Senate majority conference last week following an investigation into her involvement with a non-profit group that she helped to run with U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (inset l.) and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (inset r.)
By howard koplowitz and Ivan Pereira

A political operative with connections to state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) has left her position in Albany after a nonprofit she created with the southeast Queens elected officials became a target of a federal investigation, which is looking into the activities of both men.

Joan Flowers, who worked as Smith’s attorney and served as a political consultant to him, Meeks and Gov. David Paterson during separate elections, submitted her resignation from her $145,000-a-year job as counsel to the Senate majority conference, effective March 31, according to Smith’s spokesman, Austin Shafran. Smith is the president of the Senate.

Flowers was subpoenaed in February by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which is probing the New Direction Development Corp., a nonprofit that was set up by Smith and Meeks. She once served as treasurer of New Direction.

Shafran insisted the investigation had nothing to do with her decision to leave Albany politics.

“This was a part of an administrative restructuring in the Senate majority,” he said.

Flowers could not be reached for comment. New Direction was based out of her law office at 219-10 S. Conduit Ave. and was established in 2001 to dole out money to Queens nonprofits.

The organization came under scrutiny by federal investigators after it was revealed it collected more than $150,000 in 2005 to help victims of Hurricane Katrina but stated in its tax filing that it gave out only $1,300 in “hurricane relief” that year.

Smith’s offices and some of his associates were subpoenaed as part of the investigation, which the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District will not comment on.

The senator’s attorney, Gerald Shargel could not be reached and Meeks’ office did not have a comment by press time Tuesday.

The investigation has expanded to more players recently.

The New York Post reported that the federal government is looking into the connections between Jamaica-based architect Robert Gaskin and Flowers, Meeks, Smith and Borough President Helen Marshall. Gaskin, who could not be reached for comment, has had contracts on behalf of the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. for the AirTrain and at John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to the Post.

He was also the contractor on construction projects at Flowers’ law office; properties that belonged to Smith’s former real estate firm, W.R. Smith; Meeks’ St. Albans home; and Helen Marshall’s home as well, according to the paper.

Representatives from the borough president’s office did not return phone calls for comment, but they told the Post that Marshall had not yet been subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney’s office.

Gaskin was also the architect for the Merrick Academy charter school in Jamaica, where Smith was once a member of the board of directors. The school, which has no gym, also lists Darryl Greene as one of its board members.

Greene was one of the investors in Aqueduct Entertainment Group, the development consortium that originally won the bid for Aqueduct Race Track’s video lottery terminals, but he had to pull out after it was revealed he had a criminal conviction.

The deal with AEG was terminated because the consortium was not granted a gaming license by the state Lottery Division.

Questions about the AEG bid arose when it was revealed that Paterson had met with the Rev. Floyd Flake, the political mentor of both Meeks and Smiths and also an investor in AEG, just days after the consortium was chosen for the Aqueduct VLTs.

The meeting took place after Flake said he was open to supporting state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for governor, triggering concerns that the selection of AEG may have been motivated by political interests.

Greene’s wife was also a board member of New Direction.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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