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Chen accuses Liu of ethics violations

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With the Democratic primary just two weeks away one of John Liu’s competitors accused the prominent Flushing city council candidate Tuesday of ethics violations during his tenure at Community Board 7.

Liu’s spokesman vehemently denied the charge.

Liu is one of eight candidates running for City Councilwoman Julia Harrison’s (D-Flushing) 20th Council District seat and has been considered the front runner in the race. If he wins the Democratic primary Sept. 11, Liu could be the first Asian American elected to government office in the city.

Representatives of Ethel Chen, one of the Democratic contenders for the seat, and Harrison’s office announced they had filed a complaint about Liu with the city Department of Investigation. John Watts, Harrison’s chief of staff, joined Chen’s representatives at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in downtown Flushing.

The accusations center on a CB 7 committee vote Liu had made in favor of a variance on a construction project at 39-07 Prince St. in September 2000. At issue was the parking for the retail center.

Darryl Fox and James Wu, advisers to Chen’s campaign, and Watts said Liu, a member of Community Board 7 in Flushing, had taken a total of $7,000 in contributions over three years from the project’s developer, F & T Development, before the votes were taken. The last contribution occurred five months prior to the CB 7 vote on the project.

They said Liu should have recused himself from the vote for the Prince Street project because of the contributions from F & T. One of the F & T partners and contributors to the Liu campaign was convicted of bank fraud along with Liu’s father in the operation of the Great Eastern Bank in Flushing. They are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 28.

While a spokesman from the Department of Investigation refused to confirm or deny Tuesday that the complaint had been filed, a spokesman for the Liu campaign denied the charges.

“This is nothing but a desperate, last-minute smear from two people with a political agenda,” Liu campaign manager Evan Stavisky said Tuesday in a statement.

Chen, a Democratic district leader, ran against Liu for Harrison’s city council seat in 1997 but was removed from the ballot because of challenges to her petition. She also was knocked off the ballot in 1993 in a bid for the same seat.

The Queens Democratic machine endorsed Liu in the current race rather than Chen despite backing the party’s other district leaders in Queens council races.

“It is outrageous that John Watts is using his government office to advance his private, political agenda,” Stavisky said in the statement. “For years, he expressed his desire to run for the Council this year but his efforts were an abject failure.”

Neither Chen nor Watts could be reached for further comment as of press time.

According to F & T Development brochures provided by Fox, Wu and Watts, the new six-story retail center is to be named Prince Center.

Fox, Wu and Watts said they filed their complaint with the DOI Friday after Fox and Wu spent about a week researching Liu’s votes at the CB 7 offices in Flushing.

When asked if he thought the F & T Development contributions were made in exchange for Liu’s vote, Wu said: “I don’t know what their intentions were — I know there was a question of ethics.”

Watts said he decided to join the Department of Investigation complaint because this is an election year and he felt compelled to bring the ethics concerns to the attention of someone in city government.

The F & T Development group is a large umbrella organization led by developer Wellington Chen, which features several different development companies under its banner. Some of those companies include TDC Development & Construction Corporation, Two Corners, Inc., Fultonex International.

A spokeswoman for CB 7 who declined to give her name said the board had no comment on the allegations against Liu.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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