City fines Queens’ Democratic Commissioner $10K

By Sarina Trangle

City Board of Elections President Jose Miguel Araujo put his wife on the payroll so their family could get health insurance, but the move may not have been a benefit now that city attorneys are involved.

The city Conflicts of Interest Board announced last week it levied its maximum fine of $10,000 against Araujo, Queens’ Democratic BOE commissioner, and issued a $1,500 penalty against a Queens borough manager who also breached city law by hiring a relative.

Araujo admitted he employed his wife, Rita Araujo, as a temporary clerk in the Queens BOE office for more than 2 1/2 years in a signed disposition.

“I hired my wife so that she could obtain health insurance for our family under the city’s health benefits program,” the document read. “Rita was employed by the BOE from approximately Feb. 21, 2010 to Oct. 11, 2012, during which time she was enrolled in a city health benefits program.”

Araujo, who lives in East Elmhurst and works as an attorney at Renfroe, Driscoll & Foster, LLP, said he terminated his wife when his commissioner position was up for renewal and officials told him he needed a waiver to employ her, according to the disposition.

Araujo did not return calls for comment.

He was named Queens’ Democratic BOE commissioner in 2008 and reappointed twice. His fellow commissioners voted him president in July 2014.

Under state law, the two major political parties must be equally represented in the agency. Ten commissioners — one Democrat and one Republican from each borough — oversee the board. The City Council typically fills these leadership posts based on candidates suggested by the county Democratic and GOP parties.

Michael Reich, executive secretary of the Queens Democratic Party, did not return calls for comment.

Critics say the BOE’s bipartisan structure has fueled a culture of nepotism because commissioners have the authority to hire, promote and fire employees in their home borough.

After a city Department of Investigation report hypothesized patronage may be behind the BOE’s shortcomings and estimated 69 of its employees were related, The TimesLedger Newspapers reported both of Queens’ commissioners made questionable hires.

Besides his wife, Araujo employed his sister-in-law, Raquel Torres, according to sources and personnel documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.

The GOP Commissioner, Michael Michel, approved the hiring and promotion of Joseph Cintron, who lives with Michel’s daughter and fathered a child with her, according to sources and personnel documents.

The city Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.

The Conflict of Interests Board also penalized Barbara Conacchio, chief clerk at the BOE’s Queens office, $1,500 for hiring her daughter, Amanda Conacchio.

The elder Conacchio, who started at the BOE in 1991, admitted she gave her daughter a temporary gig in 1992, when she was still in high school, and later oversaw her when she took a full-time, permanent clerk position at the Queens office, according to a signed disposition.

Amanda Conacchio was transferred to the general BOE office in February 2014.

Her mother could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle by e-mail at stran‌gle@c‌ngloc‌al.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.