Where her Coney Island neighbors saw devastation, crooked state Assemblywoman Pamela Harris envisioned opportunity — and cashed in.
The Brooklyn politician was charged Tuesday with turning the nightmare aftermath of Hurricane Sandy into a money-making scheme by lying about the damage to her Brooklyn home.
Harris looted tens of thousands of dollars in state and federal funds in several scams — and then tried to cover up her crimes, according to a newly-unsealed federal indictment.
The politician spent $ 10,000 of her ill-gotten gains on vacation getaways, covering airline and cruise tickets for the politician and her husband, officials charged.
And she allegedly used other funds to pay her lingerie tab at Victoria’s Secret.
While her constituents struggled with the hurricane’s devastation, “Harris was busy brewing a storm of her own — one that resulted in her receiving significant payouts by the very federal agency charged with helping those truly in need,” said FBI New York field office head William Sweeney Jr.
She was freed on $ 150,000 bond Tuesday afternoon, hours after her arrest for allegedly looting government funds between 2012 and 2017.
“Ms. Harris has been an invaluable community organized and a well-regarded legislator,” said a statement from her attorneys. “Especially given her background, we are disappointed that Ms. Harris was indicted.
“She has pleaded not guilty, and we look forward to her day in court and an opportunity there to present the full facts.”
Assemblywoman Pamela Harris (c.) has been accused of looting tens and thousands of dollars in state and federal funds that’s meant for recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy.
(Jesse Ward/for New York Daily News)
Harris, who appeared poised and professional in a black pants suit and heels, is due back in court next Tuesday. She left court without comment.
According to the 21-page federal indictment, Harris defrauded the City Council of nearly $ 23,000 by falsely claiming the money would cover the rent for a Brooklyn nonprofit.
She instead diverted the cash into her checking account to cover personal expenses in 2015, the indictment charged. The same thing occurred with $ 35,000 in council funds awarded in 2016.
And she was also accused of looting nearly $ 25,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency by lying about damage to her Coney Island residence by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Harris actually stayed in the undamaged house while allegedly filing phony rent payment receipts and a bogus lease agreement for a Staten Island residence.
Though still in Coney Island, she was compensated for temporary housing assistance.
Harris, elected to the assembly in a November 2015 special election, was also charged with trying to illegally collect funds from the city’s Build It Back program for Sandy victims.
Last year, when she became aware of the investigation, the elected official went to friends with a request that they lie to FBI agents, the indictment charged.
Hurricane Sandy: Remembering the historic storm and its aftermath
“When she learned that law enforcement was investigating her various fraud schemes, she pressured witnesses to lie to the FBI and cover them up,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue.
Harris, 57, could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the top count in her 11-count indictment. She was charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making false statements, bankruptcy fraud, witness tampering and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
“We are just hearing of this,” said Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “They are very serious changes and it’s important to let the justice system take its course.”
Her predecessor in the Brooklyn district, Alec Brook-Krasny, was indicted last year in connection with the takedown of three pill mills accused of putting $ 6.3 million of opioids on the black market.
The Harris indictment starts what looms as a year of corruption trials, starting this month with the prosecution of Joe Percoco, a former senior aide to Gov. Cuomo.
Disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos are up for retrial later this year in Manhattan federal court.
Juries convicted the ex-Albany powerhouses in separate trials. But a federal appeals court ordered do-overs, applying a Supreme Court ruling that overturned former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s corruption convictions.