ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – A longtime state assemblyman from New York City was charged Wednesday with felony counts of using his campaign funds for personal expenses and filing false claims for travel reimbursements.
William Scarborough, a 68-year-old Queens Democrat, was shackled and wearing a suit when he pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning in Albany County Court to charges of grand larceny and filing false campaign documents.
In the afternoon, still in the suit but without shackles, he pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges of theft and wire fraud related to expense claims. He was released after each arraignment.
“In 20 years in office I have never said to any constituent that you have to do something for me in order for me to help you with your problems,” Scarborough said afterward, standing on the federal courthouse steps. “I have never said to anybody that I wanted a quid pro quo for anything.”
Scarborough said he’s at his Albany office more than many downstate lawmakers, working there when the Legislature isn’t in session, and has a higher level of expenditures. He is running unopposed for re-election in November and said nothing has changed as far as his campaign is concerned.
His lawyer, E. Stewart Jones, said any paperwork mistakes were innocent, and any money Scarborough received that he shouldn’t have will be returned.
The 23-count state indictment accuses Scarborough of using campaign funds for personal expenses. It followed an investigation by the state attorney general and comptroller’s offices.
“When people donate money to a political campaign, when the government puts up money to reimburse people for public expenses, they have to be able to trust the money is going to be used for a lawful purpose and not just go into a politician’s pocket,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. He declined to say whether there are similar criminal investigations underway of other legislators’ campaign finances.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said elected officials can’t use taxpayer and campaign funds as their personal piggy banks.
“In my view what we’re trying to do is change the culture, and I think there was a go-along get-along culture where people turned a blind eye,” Schneiderman said.
The indictment alleges Scarborough took more than $38,000 from the campaign account since 2007 in cash, transfers and deposits to his personal bank account and didn’t report the withdrawals as required to the state Board of Elections. A related court document says Scarborough reimbursed the campaign more than $20,000 but failed to repay almost $18,000.
Jones said Scarborough spent more of his own money on campaign expenses than he’s been reimbursed by the campaign. “There was no crime committed here,” he said, adding the campaign probably owes his client money.
In March, the FBI raided the assemblyman’s home, offices and hotel room, taking boxes of documents.
Scarborough has been in office since 1994. He chairs the Assembly Committee on Small Business.
The 11-count federal indictment alleges that while Scarborough was eligible for up to $171 for overnight stays in Albany, driving expenses and up to $61 for day visits, that he submitted 174 false vouchers for at least $40,000 from 2009 to 2012.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment.
Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela in New York City contributed to this report.