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DA investigating Monserrate: Report

Two agencies are investigating allegations that City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) may have improperly used a nonprofit group he funded to aid his 2006 state Senate campaign, the New York Times reported last week.

The Department of Investigation and the Queens district attorney's office are scrutinizing the pages of the petition filed with the state Board of Elections to see if workers from the Jackson Heights-based Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment gathered them, the Times reported, citing an anonymous law enforcement official.

DOI officials and a spokesman for Queens DA Richard Brown declined to comment on The Times story.

Julissa Ferreras, Monserrate's chief of staff, did not return phone calls seeking comment by press time Tuesday.

Monserrate has allocated at least $167,000 to LIBRE in discretionary funds in the last two fiscal years, according to city budget records. The Times reported he has provided as much as $2.7 million in discretionary and capital funding, partly to build a community center with another Jackson Heights-based nonprofit, the Latino Action Center headed by Charles Castro, Monserrate's former chief of staff.

While Monserrate's office did not respond to requests for comment, the councilman did tell The Times that the Latino Action Center sent a letter to the Department of Youth and Community Development, the agency administering part of the funds, declining the money.

Monserrate, who is expected to challenge incumbent John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) for his state Senate seat this fall, earlier issued a statement about LIBRE after it was revealed the group had not filed any tax documents since 2005.

"While I am extremely concerned about their poor bookkeeping, I am proud to have helped them and hope that they will address any issues concerning their performance," he said in the statement.

LIBRE's programs include English classes, immigration assistance, job placement programs and health education services, according to its Web site.

Monserrate is one of several Council members under investigation in the wake of Council Speaker Christine Quinn's announcement that the speaker's office had created fake nonprofit groups to hold discretionary funds for later use as political favors.

Two of City Councilman Kendall Stewart's (D-Brooklyn) staff were recently indicted in Manhattan federal court on charges of money laundering conspiracy and mail fraud conspiracy for allegedly embezzling $145,000 in Council discretionary funds.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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