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Leffler disbarred for finance fraud

Leffler, 61, is a...

By Courtney Dentch

Former City Councilman Sheldon Leffler lost his license to practice law last week as mandated six months after he was convicted of trying to defraud the city Campaign Finance Board of $40,000 during his 2001 bid of borough president.

Leffler, 61, is a graduate of Harvard Law School who represented northeast Queens in the Council for 24 years before he was forced out of the office by term limits. He was found guilty by a Manhattan State Supreme Court jury in November of illegally attempting to obtain $40,000 in public matching funds during his unsuccessful 2001 campaign for Queens borough president.

He was sentenced in January to 540 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. Judge Lewis Bart Stone also prohibited Leffler from reapplying for his law license, which he automatically lost when he was convicted of the felony charges, for five years.

Leffler was formally stripped of his law license last week, a spokeswoman for the New York State Bar Association said. Leffler’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Leffler faced four years in prison, but Stone sentenced him to probation and community service instead. The former chairman of the city’s Public Safety Committee was ordered to work with the Osborne Association, an organization with two Long Island City offices that helps released convicts adjust to living in the community again, as his community service.

Leffler was convicted Nov. 12 of attempting to defraud the city of $40,000 by splitting one donation into 38 smaller amounts to illegally qualify for the city’s matching funds program during his bid for borough president.

Assistant District Attorney Daniel Cort argued during the four-week trial that Leffler convinced Hollis real estate mogul Rita Stark to split a $10,000 contribution into smaller $250 donations so the money would qualify for the city’s campaign matching funds program.

The matching funds program allows candidates to get $4 in public funds for every $1 they raise in eligible gifts under $250.

Leffler also told Stark to donate the funds under names of her employees, family, friends, tenants and contractors and having her forge their signatures on contribution cards.

Stark testified against Leffler and wore a wire to secretly record conversations with the lawmaker and his staff as part of a plea agreement with the Manhattan district attorney. She was not charged with anything.

In the Council, Leffler, who chaired the Public Security Committee, earned a reputation for honesty and integrity. Leffler worked in the Council to establish the city’s recycling laws and was an advocate for other environmental issues.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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