Apr. 30, 2015

Assemblyman Scarborough to Step Down and Plead Guilty to Corruption Charges

 

Story by Thomas Kaplan

 

ALBANY —  Admitting that he claimed false travel expenses to pad his salary, a state assemblyman from Queens said on Tuesday that he would resign from office and plead guilty to corruption charges.

The assemblyman, William Scarborough, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Jamaica and nearby communities, will join the ever-expanding roster of state lawmakers who have left office because of a criminal prosecution.

In a statement released Tuesday in which he apologized for his actions, Mr. Scarborough said he “faced severe financial problems” and was angry that lawmakers, who earn a base salary of $79,500, had not received a salary increase since 1999.

“Regardless, I clearly understand that there was no excuse for my actions, and the blame rests solely with me,” Mr. Scarborough said. “Many of my colleagues felt the same frustration with the salary situation as I did, but they did not act as I did.”

In an 11-count indictment unsealed in October in Federal District Court in Albany, Mr. Scarborough was accused of stealing at least $40,000 from the state by claiming travel expenses when he had not actually been in Albany or had stayed there for less time than he had asserted.

Mr. Scarborough, who was first elected in 1994, pleaded not guilty at the time. But court records show that he is scheduled to change his plea on May 7. His lawyer, E. Stewart Jones Jr., said on Tuesday that Mr. Scarborough would plead guilty to two felony charges. The news of the change in plea was reported by The Times Union of Albany.

A spokesman for Richard S. Hartunian, the United States attorney for the Northern District of New York, whose office is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.

State legislators currently receive $172 per day when they are in Albany — $111 for lodging and $61 for food and other expenses. The per diem system has long been seen as vulnerable to abuse by lawmakers eager to pad their salaries; lawmakers claiming per diems are not required to submit receipts.

Indeed, in his statement, Mr. Scarborough said he had decided “to take advantage of a travel system where you simply said you were in Albany and were reimbursed, basically with no questions asked.”

In the new state budget, as part of a deal with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, on new ethics measures, lawmakers agreed to put in place new controls on travel expenses. The budget calls for the Senate and Assembly to use an electronic verification system that would document a legislator’s presence in Albany.

Mr. Scarborough also faces state charges on accusations that he used campaign money for personal expenses. Those charges are still pending.