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Huntley sentenced to a year and a day in prison

AP Photo/Tom Hays
By Rich Bockmann

Former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, who pleaded guilty to taking a bribe and stealing $87,000 from a non-profit, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison in Brooklyn federal court Thursday a day after the judge released the names of nine people she secretly recorded in a bid for leniency.

Judge Jack Weinstein also ordered Huntley to serve three years’ probation after completing her jail term and to pay back the $87,000 in stolen funds.

Huntley, who was wearing a black and white dress, spoke to the judge before he handed down the sentence.

“I’m requesting you grant me another chance,” she said. “I vow to spend my few remaining years to redeem myself in the eyes of the people I disappointed.”

Facing charges by state and federal law enforcement last summer, Huntley invited nine associates to her home — including Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and City Councilman Ruben Wills — and secretly recorded conversations with them for the FBI, according to a letter unsealed in Brooklyn federal court Wednesday.

In the letter, the attorney for the former southeast Queens lawmaker named the people Huntley taped and asked Weinstein to consider her cooperation with the authorities when handing down a prison term.

Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District who prosecuted Huntley’s federal case, wrote a letter to the judge that said eight of the nine people Huntley recorded are currently under investigation by authorities, but it was not known who was not the target of a probe.

Two of the people on the list, Smith and John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), have been charged with felonies.

In a memo suggesting a prison term of up to two years, Lynch said Huntley was less than cooperative, often providing contradictory statements to authorities.

“Under these circumstances, the government concluded that the defendant could not serve as an effective cooperating witness, and therefore declined to offer her a cooperation agreement,” Lynch wrote in the sentencing memo.

Huntley’s troubles came into public view back in December 2011, when two of her associates were charged by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman with embezzling taxpayer money from the Parent Network, a non-profit the senator had steered state member items toward.

During the following spring, law enforcement authorities tapped Huntley’s cell phone and overheard her talking about three schemes she participated in, according to Lynch’s sentencing memo.

One of those crimes was Huntley’s coverup of the embezzlement at the Parent Network. She pleaded guilty to the fraud in Nassau County, where the nonprofit was located, earlier this year and was sentenced last month to five years’ probation.

In another scheme no charges were ever filed in, an unnamed state senator set up a meeting between Huntley and an unidentified businessman who wanted Huntley to use her influence as an elected official to persuade the Port Authority to allow him to expand his business at JFK Airport.

The attempt was unsuccessful and Huntley admitted in federal court to taking a $1,000 bribe from the businessman.

In a third plot Huntley admitted to covering up for the theft of $87,700 from another non-profit, the Parent Information Network, the crime Lynch’s office prosecuted. She pleaded guilty before Weinstein in February and has been awaiting sentencing.

When the FBI confronted Huntley with what agents had overheard her talking about, she agreed to cooperate with the authorities.

Between June and August she photographed and recorded nine people at her home in Rochdale Village, including Smith, who was charged last month along with City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Queens Republican Party Vice Chairman Vince Tabone in a plot to bribe the southeast Queens Senator’s way on the GOP ticket for mayor.

She also recorded Sampson, who was charged Monday with stealing the profits from foreclosed homes to fund his failed bid for the borough’s district attorney and accepting an undocumented loan from an unnamed real estate developer to pay back the profits.

Citing unnamed law enforcement sources, The New York Times and other newspapers identified Queens real estate developer Edul Ahmad as one of Sampson’s conspirators.

Ahmad gave U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) a $40,000 loan in 2007 that was the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation that eventually cleared Meeks.

Peralta, a Queens borough president candidate, was one of the politicians recorded.

“I am confident that the authorities will find, if they have not already done so, that I have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever,” he wrote in a statement.

Wills walked out on a hearing last year after he was subpoenaed by Schneiderman to account for nearly $30,000 that had been allocated by Huntley to a non-profit he controlled in 2008 while serving as her chief of staff.

“My attorney has been in contact with federal law enforcement authorities and he has been informed that I am not the target of any investigation arising from proceedings involving Shirley Huntley,” Wills said in a statement. “I have personally not been contacted by any law enforcement officials to date and I look forward to continuing the work of the people of southeast Queens that elected me.”

Huntley also recorded Brooklyn state Sens. Velmanette Montgomery and Eric Adams, Sen. Hassell-Thompson (D-Mt. Vernon), Melvin Lowe, a former political consultant and associate of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Curtis Taylor, a former press adviser to Smith.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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