Hiram trades politics for pies

Former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate now works at Papaya Pizza, a restaurant opened in the location of his former campaign office. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rebecca Henely

Where he once handed out fliers and plotted campaign strategy, controversial former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate now serves up pizza, fruit juice and flan.

Monserrate, who is battling fraud charges and recently lost his high-powered Manhattan defense lawyer Joseph Tacopina after being unable to pay his fees, has found a job at restaurant Papaya Pizza in Corona at 40-53 99th St.

The pizza place was once Monserrate’s campaign office when he was running for the city council, senate and assembly. Monserrate was a councilman for the 21st district from 2002 to 2008 and state senator from 2009 to early 2010. The senate ousted him after he was convicted of misdemeanor assault against his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, in an incident where her face was slashed with glass and he was filmed pulling her through the lobby of his apartment building. He tried to regain his seat in a March special election held after he was ousted and later ran for Assembly, but lost both times.

Monserrate was not available when TimesLedger Newspapers called and visited Papaya Pizza, although he released a statement saying he was “consulting and assisting in the management” of the restaurant.

“For over 20 years I have served the public in various capacities as a Marine, police officer, Council member and state senator. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve again,” Monserrate said of his job at the pizzeria.

Papaya serves pizza, but also a variety of foods such as croissants, cookies, salads, deli meats and coffee. In keeping with what Monserrate called the restaurant’s “Latin accent,” Papaya Pizza also serves mango and papaya juices and flan. Most items on the menu are less than $5.

Monserrate was indicted in October on charges in Manhattan federal court of using more than $100,000 in Council discretionary funds he allocated for the Corona-based nonprofit Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment Inc. for his Senate campaign.

In January, before he lost Tacopina as his defense lawyer over his ability to pay his fees and received a court-appointed attorney in Manhattan, lawyer James Neuman, Monserrate filed a financial affidavit saying he was unemployed. He cited his income as coming from a $26,000 pension and $3,000 in consulting fees he earned over the course of a year.

He said he had outstanding debts of $74,000 on a mortgage, $14,000 in credit card debt, $10,000 for a car lease, $8,000 for a student loan and $22,000 to the IRS.

A TimesLedger Newspapers reporter observed a number of patrons frequenting Papaya Pizza, which has been open since at least February. The city Department of Health said the store’s earliest inspection was Feb. 22 and the store has an A rating.

Martha Flores-Vazquez, a former Flushing Democratic district leader and a longtime friend of Monserrate, said she did not understand the curiosity around Monserrate’s new job.

“He is a private citizen. He deserves to work wherever he chooses,” Flores-Vasquez said. “Everyone has to make a living.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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