In the final nail in the coffin of a notorious political career, former state Sen. and City Councilman Hiram Monserrate pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court Friday to funneling taxpayer dollars through a nonprofit to finance his 2006 Senate campaign, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said.
Monserrate, 44, who served as councilman from 2002-08 and senator from 2009 to early 2010, entered the guilty plea to the October 2010 charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.
Monserrate’s sentencing is set for Sept. 14, the U.S. attorney said, and his charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison each.
The disgraced lawmaker admitted to using more than a third of discretionary funding he allocated to the Corona-based nonprofit Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment Inc. to pay employees to work on his failed 2006 Senate campaign against incumbent John Sabini, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
“Today’s guilty plea drives home the message that an elected official who betrays the public trust will be held accountable,” city Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said in a statement Friday.
LIBRE’s services included English classes, immigration assistance, job placement programs and health education services. Monserrate had been instrumental in selecting both its staff and board of directors. It shut down in 2008 after the city Department of Youth and Community Development began investigating it.
Monserrate made headlines around the city for a 2008 assault against his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, which got him booted from the Senate in February 2010, but he was engaged in the fraudulent activity before the domestic incident that ended with Giraldo in the hospital with her face slashed.
After giving $300,000 in 2005 and 2006 to LIBRE, Monserrate used about $109,000 of the funds in 2006 to pay some LIBRE employees to work for his 2006 campaign and collect signatures for him to capture the Democratic Party’s nomination as well as to conduct a voter registration drive through LIBRE where he campaigned, the U.S. attorney said.
After registering the voters in 2006, Monserrate deliberately did not give the voter database to the state Board of Elections until the last minute, which gave his campaign an unfair advantage, the U.S. attorney said.
“Monserrate took money out of the pockets of needy people to fund his own political career,” Bharara said in a statement. “We will continue to pursue and prosecute elected officials who foolishly think that they can corruptly use public money for their own benefit.”
.The former senator had previously employed high-powered defense attorney Joseph Tacopina, who had represented Monserrate during his assault trial, but eventually revealed he could not pay him, as Monserrate had only earned $26,000 from his pension as a former police officer and $3,000 through consulting in 2010.
Tacopina had tried to get the court to appoint him Monserrate’s attorney, but McMahon refused and appointed Manhattan attorney James Neuman instead.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cn
©2012 Community News Group
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