Photo by Christina Santucci
By Ivan Pereira

State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) went on the defensive last week after state prosecutors indicted four of her associates, including her niece, as part of an investigation into state money that went into a nonprofit that the senator created.

Although state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have not charged Huntley, investigators maintain the thousands of dollars in member item money she gave to Parent Workshop Inc. was squandered by the group’s administrators.

Huntley, who created the educational outreach group before being elected to office in 2006, contended that she did not knowingly shortchange taxpayers.

“The joint investigation by the attorney general and the comptroller found no wrongdoing on my part. I am confident that when all of the facts are presented they will prove I acted appropriately,” she said in a statement.

Member items are funds in the state budget given to lawmakers to dole out to nonprofits primarily in their legislative districts.

Patricia D. Savage, an aide to Huntley, and Lynn H. Smith, the senator’s niece who lives in her home, were indicted Dec. 7 on 11 counts of grand larceny and offering a false instrument in the theft of nearly $30,000 that was set aside for Parent Workshop Inc., which operates out of southeast Queens, the attorney general said.

“The charges announced today send a strong message that those who abuse their positions to rip off taxpayers will be prosecuted,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

Two other Parent Workshop associates, David R. Gantt and Roger N. Scotland, were charged with falsifying business records for allegedly trying to cover up the theft, according to the attorney general.

Scotland, who is the president of the Southern Queens Park Association, was also charged with tampering with physical evidence, Schneiderman said.

The group was created to give support to schools and parents with outreach and educational enhancement programs, according to the attorney general.

Savage, who was the president of Parent Workshop, and Smith, who acted as the group’s treasurer, falsely asserted that the member item money given to the nonprofit would be used to “hold workshops for and conduct outreach to parents on the workings of the New York City public school system,” Schneiderman said.

The pair allegedly submitted a fraudulent contract and fake vouchers to claim the $29,950 they received from the state between April 2008 and March 2009, according to the attorney general.

During that time, however, Parent Workshop had no events or outreach, the attorney general said.

Gantt allegedly falsified records to make it look like he was paid in cash for the phony workshops and Scotland allegedly created a false record in an attempt to hide the theft once the investigation started, according to Schneiderman.

The attorney general’s and state comptroller’s offices would not comment on whether there were more indictments to come as part of the investigation.

“Abuse and fraud will not be tolerated. By combining forces, my office and the attorney general have exposed and are prosecuting this egregious theft of state funds which were intended for the public good,” the comptroller said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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