Queens Pols Defend Their Reps After Report of Investigation

Shirley Huntley. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Shirley Huntley. (Photo: Wikimedia)

After the head of a Queens nonprofit tied to former State Senator Shirley Huntley was arrested today, two council members reportedly under investigation sought to distance themselves from the case.

Neither Mark Weprin nor Leroy Comrie, whom insiders generally regard as above-the-board types, said they had been contacted by investigators, despite a New York Post story reporting that they were being probed.

“I have not been contacted by an investigative agency,” Mr. Comrie told Politicker after reading that he was being investigated by the Attorney General and State Comptroller for allocating money to an allegedly sham nonprofit.

Mr. Comrie said he stopped giving the group money once it failed a state audit more than a year ago. 

“I have no idea where they got that information from,” he said, referring to the Post story.

In a statement, Mr. Weprin said that he did not know Van Holmes, the president of Young Leaders Institute, a Laurelton, Queens nonprofit that investigators say stole $88,000 in taxpayer money to pay for personal expenses like new clothes and dining.

“I do not know Mr. Holmes and have had no involvement with the organization,” Mr. Weprin explained this afternoon. “Last year, I rescinded funding for the group when I was informed that there was a problem with its finances; the organization received no money from my City Council discretionary funds for the last two years.”

The Post also reported that Councilman Ruben Wills and State Senator James Sanders Jr. are under investigation as well. Mr. Wills is Ms. Huntley’s former chief of staff and was stripped of his legislative powers by the City Council for not cooperating with an investigation regarding unaccounted money granted to a different nonprofit.

A press release from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, however, cautioned that, “individual disbursements of public funds are not themselves evidence of any wrongdoing, and it would be inappropriate to presume that any particular public official has engaged in misconduct simply by directing funds to a non-profit.”

An investigator in State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office would not comment on whether any elected officials were under investigation.

This month, Ms. Huntley will begin serving a year in prison for embezzling taxpayer money from her sham nonprofit and falsifying a paper trail to cover up the crime.

Update (9:03 PM): Mr. Wills said he was not contacted by an investigators and Mr. Sanders explained that he funded the Youth Leaders Institute with “full vetting” of the City Council.

“During his time as a councilman, he allocated over $50,000 to each school in his district every year for technology and other improvements,” Greg Shapiro, a Sanders spokesman, said. “Several years ago, the former councilman was asked to fund after school programs in his district. The organization in question was one of those programs. He funded the program after full vetting by the City Council of New York City.”

Mr. Wills said in the past the nonprofit had done “good work” in the community

“I recommended funding of the Young Leaders Institute in 2010 and 2011,” Mr. Wills said. “In the past, this organization has done good work in the community. City Council discretionary funding requests are vetted by the City Council, as well as the Mayor’s Office of Contracts and the funding agency before one dollar is issued to any organization. My office has not been contacted by the Attorney General’s office pertaining to this matter, but if and when we are, we plan to fully cooperate.”

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