Monserrate gets two years

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rebecca Henely

Former City Councilman and State Sen. Hiram Monserrate was sentenced to 24 months in prison and ordered to pay almost $80,000 in restitution for fraudulently using City Council funds Tuesday to underwrite his own election campaign in the latest chapter in the East Elmhurst politician’s fall from grace.

Judge Collen McMahon delivered the sentence to Monserrate in Manhattan federal court, based on his guilty plea to one count of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In addition to the prison time, Monserrate will have three years of supervised release.

Monserrate, whose career in Queens politics ended in early 2010 when the New York State Senate booted him out after he was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend Karla Giraldo, had pleaded guilty in May to funneling City Council funds to a Corona nonprofit and then using the organization to conduct his failed 2006 state Senate campaign.

Monserrate, who appeared in court in a dark suit with a red patterned tie, was contrite when speaking before McMahon. At one point he held back tears when speaking about how a prison sentence would hurt his mother Hilda, who is battling cancer, and his 16-year-old son Gabriel, who has autism.

“I am ashamed and deeply sorry for my lapse in judgment,” Monserrate told the judge.

Monserrate was elected to the Council in 2002, becoming the first Latino to reach that higher office from Queens, and became state senator in 2008. Shortly after being elected to the Senate, he shocked the Queens political scene when he slashed Giraldo’s face with glass, then pulled her down the stairs and through the hallway of his Jackson Heights apartment building. Giraldo later claimed the slashing was an accident, but he received a misdemeanor assault conviction in 2010 for pulling her by her hair, which was caught by security footage. The attack resulted in his expulsion from the state Senate.

Federal prosecutors in the fraud case said Monserrate allocated $300,000 in 2005 and 2006 to the nonprofit Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Community Empowerment Inc. The nonprofit, also known as LIBRE, offered services like English classes, immigration help, job placement and health education and Monserrate was instrumental in setting up its board members and staff.

Monserrate, a former NYPD officer, used $109,000 of the City Council funds to pay LIBRE employees to work on his campaign and collect signatures. The LIBRE employees were also paid to conduct a drive of registered voters in the district, which Monserrate did not give to the state Board of Elections until the last minute, giving him an unfair advantage.

The former councilman’s lawyer, James Neuman, requested community service, arguing that Monserrate only used the money for political purposes and not for personal gain, but McMahon rejected it, saying while Monserrate did not buy a fancy car or a house with the money, he used it for himself.

“Political purposes are building roads, funding schools, saving firehouses,” McMahon said.

She said a prison sentence was necessary to stop future elected officials from using taxpayer money for themselves.

“That’s the lesson that must be taught,” she said. “That’s the lesson that has to be learned.”

Monserrate is required to surrender to authorities March 11.

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

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