By Rich Bockmann
A Brooklyn federal judge last week sentenced former state Sen. Shirley Huntley to a year and one day in prison for stealing taxpayer dollars, but said in the past the court had proven to be imperfect in deterring such corruption.
“Adequate safeguards at the state and local level would be more appropriate deterrents than the blunt instrument of criminal prosecution,” Justice Jack Weinstein said at the disgraced former lawmaker’s sentencing May 9.
Huntley, 74, recorded and photographed nine people at her southeast Queens home over the summer in cooperation with the FBI and federal prosecutors, court documents unsealed the day before her sentencing revealed.
Sitting with her husband by her side in Brooklyn federal court, Huntley admitted her mistakes and asked the judge for leniency.
“I’m requesting you grant me another chance,” she pleaded. “I vow to spend my few remaining years to redeem myself in the eyes of the people I’ve disappointed.”
Huntley faced 18-24 months in jail after she pleaded guilty in January to covering up the embezzlement of $87,000 from the Parent Information Network, a nonprofit run by her daughter.
“The public expects the highest in integrity and honesty from public officials,” Weinstein said, recognizing Huntley’s cooperation with the FBI as one of a few “mitigating factors” he considered when handing down a non-guideline sentence of 366 days.
Huntley also got three years’ probation and was ordered to pay $87,000 in restitution and a $100 fine.
Court documents showed that her work with a team of federal agents probing corruption in New York provided law enforcement with useful information against three individuals who were not identified, but she was less than forthright when providing full disclosure about her own embezzlement and she was unable to secure a cooperating agreement with prosecutors.
Huntley’s attorney filed a court memo identifying the nine people her client recorded, including Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), who allegedly threatened to take out potential witnesses against him in an embezzlement scheme he was charged in Monday.
Attorney Sally Butler said Huntley’s family was “truly terrorized” by several intimidating calls they had received in the past few days and lauded her client’s efforts, saying the information she provided could be useful in future corruption cases.
The memo also identified one of those recorded as Melvin Lowe and said he was a onetime professional associate of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, although Schneiderman refuted the association.
Schneiderman, who worked alongside Huntley as a former senator, prosecuted her last year in an embezzlement scheme similar to the one she was sentenced for Thursday.
Butler said Huntley was able to identify a mole in Schneiderman’s office and accused the AG of trying to thwart Huntley’s attempts to cooperate with the feds.
Schneiderman’s office released a statement accusing Huntley of retaliation.
“Attorney General Schneiderman’s commitment to rooting out political corruption is the reason he was the first prosecutor to indict Shirley Huntley and why she is going to prison for lying and stealing,” the statement read. “It’s no surprise that the criminal is angry at the prosecutor, but Huntley’s lies should not distract from the fact that today justice was served.”
Prosecutors, without being specific, said Huntley provided some information that could not be corroborated and other that was useful.
Among those recorded were Sens. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica).
Schneiderman subpoenaed Wills last year to account for close to $33,000 Huntley had allocated to a nonprofit he ran while he was her chief of staff.
Butler said Huntley’s recordings provided law enforcement with information favoring Wills.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.