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Finance board investigates Leffler’s 2001 campaign

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Former City Councilman Sheldon Leffler, who represented northeast Queens, is trying to settle allegations that he permitted a supporter to donate money in other people’s names to his failed Queens borough president election run in 2001.

Leffler, 59, received more than the $3,500-per-person limit to his campaign by allowing Rita Stark, a family friend and one of the borough’s biggest real estate holders, to donate $10,000 divided into $250 increments under different names, the Village Voice reported.

According to the Campaign Finance Board’s Web site, Leffler received 40 contributions of $250 each arranged by an employee of Fred Stark Real Estate at 198-10 Jamaica Ave. in Hollis. Liz Farrell, a Lynbrook, L.I. resident, was listed as the person who organized others to donate to the Leffler campaign.

A woman who said she was Farrell transferred the call to a secretary who then said that Farrell would be out of the office until next week.

The $250 campaign donations helped Leffler to circumvent the city campaign finance law by allowing him to receive matching funds at a rate of 4-to-1 on the entire $10,000 instead of only a small part of the money, the Voice said.

Leffler did not want to discuss the allegations and said he was trying to reach a settlement onthe issue.

The former councilman, who was forced out of office last year along with the entire Queens delegation due to term limits, represented the communities of Hollis, Queens Village, Bellerose, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Holliswood and Jamaica Estates and Little Neck for 24 years.

Any candidate who wanted to receive the $4-to-$1 campaign matching funds had to file his or her paperwork with the Campaign Finance Board by June 1, 2001. The city matched contributions up to $250 from city residents. This meant that for a $250 contribution a candidate would receive $1,000 from the city.

Campaign Finance Board officials said the goal of the program was to level the playing field by giving all candidates access to a certain amount of money and making officials “more responsive” to city residents rather than special interest groups.

Molly Watkins, a spokeswoman for the Campaign Finance Board, said it has handed over any information on Leffler’s campaign funds to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but would not comment further.

Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, declined to comment on the case.

Once the discrepancies were discovered by the Campaign Finance Board, investigators approached Stark, who admitted her involvement, the Voice reported, and agreed to wear a microphone during a meeting with Leffler.

According to the Village Voice, Leffler is not facing jail time but could be subject to a fine of $50,000 and forfeit the campaign matching funds still owed to him. He is expected to receive between $60,000 and $85,000 in funds.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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