June 12, 2018 / 10:55 PM / in 8 days

Ex-N.Y. lawmaker pleads guilty to defrauding federal disaster agency

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former New York state lawmaker pleaded guilty on Tuesday to defrauding a federal disaster relief agency out of aid money meant for victims of Hurricane Sandy and pressuring witnesses to lie to authorities, prosecutors said.

Former Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, 57, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of making false statements to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and one count of witness tampering, the office of U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue in Brooklyn said in a statement.

The most serious charge, making false statements to FEMA, carries a maximum sentence of 30 years, according to prosecutors. Harris is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn federal court on Sept. 26.

Harris was elected to the Assembly in November 2015. She was criminally charged in January, and resigned from her position in April.

“Pamela Harris, no longer an assemblywoman, has today admitted her guilt in an effort to move on with her life,” Harris’s lawyers Joel Cohen and Jerry Goldfeder of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that Judge Weinstein, particularly after reviewing her years-long contributions to her community, exercises leniency at the sentence.” They said Harris’s crimes were not related to her assemblywoman role.

Prosecutors said that between 2012 and 2014, Harris defrauded FEMA out of nearly $25,000 by falsely claiming that she had been forced out of her Coney Island home by Hurricane Sandy and was living in a temporary residence. In fact, they said, she was living at home and pocketed the money.

They said that in 2014 and 2015, Harris defrauded the New York City Council out of $22,800 by falsely claiming the money would be used for a non-profit where she was executive director while keeping it for her own use. They said she defrauded the council out of another $22,800 from 2015 to 2017 while serving as an assemblywoman.

Prosecutors said Harris also admitted to pressuring people to lie to FBI agents who were investigating her.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York

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