New York State Democrat Assemblywoman Pamela Harris was arrested Tuesday for allegedly defrauding the federal and state governments out of $60,000, including $25,000 in FEMA funds that were allocated for residents left homeless in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
But officials say Harris — who represents parts of Brooklyn in the state assembly — was not among the homeless. Instead, her Coney Island residence was still intact following the devastating 2012 storm, according to the New York Daily News.
The 57-year-old remained in her home after the storm but allegedly filed fake paperwork to prove she was paying rent for a residence in Staten Island. FEMA then compensated her with money that was set aside for “temporary housing assistance,” officials said.
In an effort to cover up what she had done, Harris is accused of telling witnesses they should lie to the FBI.
“Harris was busy brewing a storm of her own — one that resulted in her receiving significant payouts by the very federal agency charged with helping those truly in need,” said William Sweeney Jr., the head of the bureau field office in New York.
Prior to her 2015 election to the state assembly, Harris ran a non-profit training and mentoring organization. But she allegedly pocketed $34,000 that the city council had given to her group to pay for rent. Officials believe Harris used $10,000 to pay for vacations — including one on a cruise ship. She also allegedly used stolen money to shop for lingerie from Victoria’s Secret, as well as pay off bills she had accumulated from Kohls and the mortgage on her Coney Island home.
For her alleged crimes — which authorities say took place between 2012 and 2016 — Harris was charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making false statements, bankruptcy fraud, witness tampering and conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to the Daily News. Harris pleaded not guilty and was released on $150,000 bond.
“Ms. Harris has been an invaluable community organizer and a well-regarded legislator,” her attorneys said in a statement. “Especially given her background, we are disappointed that Ms. Harris was indicted.”
“She has pleaded not guilty, and we look forward to her day in court and an opportunity there to present the full facts.”
The Democrat assemblywoman’s arrest came the same week New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a lawsuit against the five largest oil companies in the nation, claiming Sandy’s destruction was amplified due to the climate change those companies contributed to. The storm struck the city in October 2012, leaving more than 40 New Yorkers dead and causing tens of billions of dollars in damage.
“After Sandy, it became clear that climate change was an active threat to our lives. It may have happened five years ago, but we are still dealing every day with the destruction it caused,” de Blasio tweeted Wednesday.
“It’s time for Big Oil to pay for that damage.”
De Blasio also noted that New York is “the first major American city to take this action against fossil fuel companies.”
New York’s road to recovery has been a long one, with multiple resiliency projects being carried out in order to prevent future natural disasters from affecting the city in a similar manner, according to Politico.
“The city seeks to shift the costs of protecting the city from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat,” the lawsuit reads, as reported by the New York Post.
Moreover, de Blasio wants the city’s pensions to divest from oil companies. But according to the National Association of Manufacturers — an industry trade group — this move will come with a high price tag, as it could cost city employees $2.8 billion over 20 years.
“Divestment won’t do anything to cut greenhouse gas emissions. All it does is pass stocks from one shareholder to another,” NAM Vice President Chris Netram said Wednesday.