Today’s news:

DA charges Leffler with $40K fraud

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Leffler, 60, was accused...

By Courtney Dentch

Former City Councilman Sheldon Leffler, a Democrat who represented northeast Queens for 24 years, was indicted last Thursday on campaign finance fraud charges stemming from his failed bid for borough president in 2001.<BR>

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Leffler, 60, was accused of getting notorious southeast Queens real estate mogul Rita Stark to donate 38 money orders for $250 each in the names of other people to claim matching funds from the city's Campaign Finance Board, said Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.<BR>

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The alleged scheme would have allowed Leffler to collect $1,000 per $250 contribution ? a total of $40,000 ? under the voluntary Campaign<BR>

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Finance Board program that provides $4 of public money for every $1 raised by candidates who agree to spending and fund-raising limits, Morgenthau said.<BR>

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The board's auditors became suspicious because the 38 money orders were in sequence, which triggered a criminal investigation and led to Stark's wearing a wire to record at least one conversation with Leffler about the contributions, the indictment said.<BR>

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Leffler, a Hollis Hills resident, was led into State Supreme Court in Manhattan in handcuffs last Thursday, where he pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of conspiracy, forgery, attempted larceny and other charges. He was released without bail.<BR>

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If convicted, Leffler could face up to seven years in prison.<BR>

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His indictment stunned many in both public and private life in Queens.<BR>

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As chairman of the Council&#237;s Public Safety Committee, he was known throughout the borough as an advocate for crime prevention and a politician with integrity.<BR>

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"Mr. Leffler has been a dedicated public servant nearly a quarter of a century," said his attorney, Fred Hafetz. "He is a man of the highest caliber. We are confident he will be vindicated of all charges."<BR>

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Leffler was not available for comment.<BR>

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He represented the communities of Hollis Hills, Queens Village, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside, Bellerose, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, Hollis, and Fresh Meadows from the time he was elected to the Council in 1978 until he was forced out of the seat by term limits in 2001. Leffler vied for the Queens borough presidency, but came in third in the Democratic primary behind Helen Marshall and former Board of Education President Carol Gresser.<BR>

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In December 1998, as Leffler began raising money for his boroughwide campaign, he approached Stark, who inherited her wealth and a number of properties in Queens from her father, Fred Stark, and asked for a contribution. Her family and Leffler&#237;s family were close friends.<BR>

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When Stark donated two checks, one from her and one from her mother for $1,000 each, Leffler allegedly explained that the money would not be eligible to receive public funds from the city and that the maximum donation that could be matched was $250, according to the indictment<BR>

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Stark and Leffler allegedly agreed that she would donate a total of $10,000 to his campaign in the form of 38 $250 contributions made in the names of Stark's employees, tenants, relatives and employees relatives, the indictment said.<BR>

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The two talked again in August 2001, when Stark recorded a conversation in which Leffler asked her to get the 38 people whose names she had used to sign contribution cards. When Stark said they did not know the contributions had been made in their names, Leffler allegedly said "they don&#237;t have to contribute a dime, all...they&#237;re asked to do is sign the cards."<BR>

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At a news conference Leffler held in his lawyer&#237;s office in September, he called Stark an "overzealous supporter" whom he considered a bundler, a contributor who rallied other donations from friends and associates. When it became clear that was not the case, Leffler ordered the money returned, he said. Stark has not been charged with any crimes.<BR>

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Leffler raised under $200,000 for the borough president race, less than half the $470,000 raised by Marshall, who took the office, and the $445,000 raised by Gresser, according to Campaign Finance records.<BR>

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Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by<BR>

phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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