NEW YORK—Nine New York City Democrats, including state senators, a city council member and two political operatives, were secretly recorded by a former lawmaker seeking leniency for her role in a corruption scandal, and nearly all of them are under criminal investigation, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
The names were released over the objections of federal prosecutors who said in a separate filing a day earlier that eight of the nine were under criminal investigation and their names should not be made public. The names include state senators Malcolm Smith and John Sampson, who have already been charged in separate cases with crimes including bribery and embezzlement. They have pleaded not guilty.
Names of the other people secretly recorded by ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley and released Wednesday were: State Sens. Eric Adams, Ruth Hassel-Thompson, Jose Peralta and Velmanette Montgomery; City Council member Rubin Wills, who was Huntley’s chief of staff before he ran for the council in a 2010 special election; former political consultant Melvin Lowe; and Curtis Taylor, a former press adviser to Smith.
Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat who had once been a captain in the New York Police Department, is an outspoken critic of the department’s stop, question and frisk policy and testified recently in a federal trial challenging the tactic. Peralta is an up-and-coming Latino leader. Thompson and Montgomery are civil rights advocates — Montgomery for those accused of crimes, and Thompson for minorities.
It marks the second time the government has acknowledged using a legislator to record conversations with colleagues as part of a criminal probe.
Adams said he had not been contacted about any investigation. “I believe deeply in transparency and the pursuit of justice — and that is why I committed 20 years of my life to law enforcement,” he said. “I am more than willing to help with any investigation.”
Smith declined to comment. None of the others returned calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn said he could not reveal which one of the nine wasn’t under criminal investigation.
Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy called the disclosure part of “an extremely trying time in Albany.”
“If any charges are brought the conference will take appropriate action,” Murphy said.
The names appear in a previously sealed letter written by Huntley’s lawyer ahead of her sentencing on Thursday, in an effort to show Huntley’s cooperation with authorities. The Queens Democrat admitted embezzling nearly $88,000 from a state-funded nonprofit she controlled when she pleaded guilty to mail fraud conspiracy last winter. Prosecutors are recommending five years’ probation. Huntley took office in 2007 and lost a re-election bid last year.
The government revealed last week that she made the recordings in a bid for leniency. They said in a court filing that the recordings of three of the eight individuals yielded evidence “useful to law enforcement authorities.”
A paragraph related to the ongoing investigation of the three elected officials remained sealed Wednesday.
Judge Jack Weinstein ordered the names released after news organizations requested them.
“Every legislator who has conversed with this defendant will necessarily assume that he or she was recorded,” he wrote. “There will be no surprises to the potentially accused by the revelations of their names.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn noted that the council has already stripped Wills of his position on the council’s budget negotiating team and his ability to allocate money to community groups in his district. Those powers were revoked last year, after it emerged that the state attorney general was looking into what had become of roughly $30,000 in state money that Huntley arranged to allocate to a nonprofit Wills led.
“If further action needs to be taken, I can’t comment on that yet, because I need to get that information,” Quinn said.
The names were made public two days after Sampson’s arrest. He pleaded not guilty to embezzlement and other charges. Prosecutors said he tried to sabotage a federal fraud investigation of his law practice by seeking inside information from an employee of the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office.
His lawyer Zachary Carter has insisted the case wasn’t in the same category as a recent rash of other criminal cases accusing New York lawmakers of abusing their authority for personal gain or to cheat on campaign finance rules.
Last month, state Assemblyman Nelson Castro, a Bronx Democrat, resigned after admitting he taped colleagues after federal investigators told him he would be charged with perjury in yet another corruption investigation.
In another recent case, Smith was accused of scheming with New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, a Republican, to bribe county Republican leaders for the GOP line on this year’s mayoral ballot. Both have pleaded not guilty. It wasn’t clear if Huntley’s recordings tied into Smith’s case.