Leffler refutes allegations of campaign finance abuse

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Former City Councilman Sheldon Leffler has denied charges he violated campaign finance laws by accepting donations from a supporter who gave a total of $10,000 in other people’s names.

Leffler, who represented eastern Queens for 24 years before running for borough president in 2001, received more than the $3,500-per-person limit to his campaign from Rita Stark, a family friend and one of the borough’s biggest real estate holders, who used tenants’ and employees’ names to make 40 donations totaling $10,000. Leffler only became aware of the circumstances last August, he said.

“Never did I ask my campaign staff to disobey or subvert either the spirit or the letter of the Campaign Finance System rules or any law, or suggest, imply, or know about or want any contribution in violation of the rules,” Leffler said in a statement distributed at a news briefing last Thursday.

Calling Stark an “overzealous supporter,” Leffler told reporters in his lawyer’s Manhattan office that he first discussed contributions to his borough presidency bid with Stark in 1999. She wanted to donate the full $10,000 then, but Leffler told her that was against finance regulations.

He said he asked Stark to make a smaller donation and to urge her friends and associates to do the same, he said.

Leffler said he believed Stark was doing just that when she presented him with 40 donations of $250, each made under a different name.

“When you do that there is no misdemeanor committed,” he said, “no crime whatsoever was committed.”

The $250 campaign donations from the 40 individuals instead of one contributor would have allowed Leffler to circumvent the city campaign finance law by allowing him to receive matching funds at a rate of 4-to-1 on the entire $10,000 instead of the $3,500 maximum that one donor can give.

Leffler said he only found out the donations all came from Stark when she told him at a meeting in August 2001, more than two years after the contributions were made, he said.

“I should have called the whole thing off then,” he said. “The very next day I told the compliance officer for the campaign, I said, ‘don’t press this through the campaign finance system.’ I said, ‘give the money back.’ ”

The donations were relinquished by the campaign, and most of it was returned. Six of the people listed as the donors told the campaign to keep the money, Leffler said.

The former councilman, who was forced out of office last year along with the entire Queens delegation due to term limits, represented the communities of Hollis, Queens Village, Bellerose, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Holliswood, Jamaica Estates and Little Neck for 24 years.

Although no formal charges have been made against Leffler, he had been trying to reach a settlement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but decided to fight the accusations when it became clear any settlement would force him to plead guilty to a crime, he said.

“They wanted me to plead to a misdemeanor which is an unfair representation of what happened,” he said. “I didn’t commit the crime they wanted me to plead to.”

A grand jury may be hearing testimony on the case, said Leffler’s lawyer Jonathan Marks, but a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney could neither confirm nor deny that. Possible charges include election law violation, attempted grand larceny and offering a false instrument for filing.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:23 pm, October 10, 2011
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