Thomas Zambito, Robert Gearty and Greg B. Smith, New York Daily News, July 16, 2009
City Councilman Miguel Martinez Thursday admitted he’d stolen thousands of taxpayer dollars through a series of scams that began in his first days in office.
Martinez pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and revealed he’d pilfered $106,000 in Council funds through various schemes from October 2002 through spring 2008.
The Daily News first reported Martinez’s self-dealing in April 2008–triggering a city Department of Investigation probe, which led to the criminal charges.
He began stealing almost from the day he arrived at the Council in 2002 to represent Washington Heights and Inwood.
Martinez funneled money meant for children’s art programs and low-income housing into bank accounts he controlled under cover names. He submitted bogus invoices to pocket money meant for office expenses.
Standing before a Manhattan Federal Court judge, Martinez admitted to his crimes in a matter-of-fact manner, saying he “was able to engage in these schemes because I was a New York City councilman.”
Half the money came from a controversial slush fund Council members use to pay for pet projects. That fund is the subject of an ongoing inquiry by the DOI and Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin.
In recent months, several politicians–both city and state–have been caught pocketing money from nonprofits they subsidized with public dollars. Some of the groups employ their relatives or legislative aides.
In Martinez’s case, his sister, Maria, sat on the board of the Upper Manhattan Council Assisting Neighbors. In the past two years, Martinez sponsored nearly $800,000 for U-CAN.
After The News reported that conflict, DOI discovered that in 2004 and 2005, Martinez arranged for U-CAN to partner with an unnamed developer building low-income homes.
The developer got millions of dollars in tax credits. In return, Martinez had the developer pay U-CAN $96,000, of which $40,000 went into bank accounts the councilman controlled.
He did the same with the Washington Heights Arts Center, which received $163,000 in city funds since 2003, most sponsored by Martinez. In that time, the center wrote $15,000 in checks to Martinez-controlled bank accounts.
He also submitted invoices for bogus “expenses” for “media outreach” and “staff development.” The vendor–a shell corporation–would write checks to his bank accounts.
Former U-CAN Director Tacito George was a board member of the arts group and the shell corporation. He could not be reached for comment.