Saturday, July 18, 2009

NYC City Council Slush Fund Scandal Grows

Gather around folks and watch politicians scramble to save their necks, because this scandal is a doozy.
Authorities are poring over the spending of about a dozen city and state legislators to see if they followed the same shady path of former City Councilman Miguel Martinez, who has admitted stealing from taxpayers, sources said yesterday.

One veteran government staffer said some people are already steering clear of the suspect legislators, fearing that anything they say could wind up in the hands of swarming prosecutors.

"I've been told, 'Be careful who you talk to,' " confided the staffer.

He obtained a list of about a dozen elected officials that authorities are "looking at," he said.

Even some of those outside the government have become fretful about interacting with certain legislators.

Martinez's admission this week that he's a crook -- and has been one since taking office in 2002, stealing $106,000 -- was the unavoidable topic No. 1 at the annual council outing yesterday at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.

"We were all saying the same thing. We all thought Martinez was a good guy," said one council member. "It turns out he's a thief, a common thief. We're all dumbfounded, frustrated and upset."

The council member said he found it ironic that during budget negotiations, Martinez consistently pressed to fund Legal Aid and legal services.

The investigation initiated with an examination of a group funded by City Councilman Kendall Stewart (D-Brooklyn) and taxpayer money that two of his aides steered toward a charity, which they used to misappropriate $145,000 in government funds.
The problem goes back to the porkbarrel projects and groups that obtain funds annually from the City and State as member items. It is far too easy for politicians to influence the outcomes of who receives those payments and the connections between the politicians and some of these nonprofit groups is too close for comfort.

In fact, one has to wonder whether some of these groups were created to benefit the politicians rather than the general public particularly since Albany legislators are considered part timers. That means that they get to hold positions outside their legislative duties.

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