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Long Island prosecutor probes NY legislators' travel records

Long Island prosecutor probes NY legislators' travel records

A Long Island prosecutor said Friday her office is examining the travel records of all New York stat
Long Island prosecutor probes NY legislators' travel records
Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas speaks during a press conference in Mineola, N.Y., on Friday, May 29, 2015.
Photographer: The Associated Press

MINEOLA, N.Y. — A Long Island prosecutor said Friday her office is examining the travel records of all New York state lawmakers from Nassau County.

Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas confirmed the probe of the legislators at a press conference Friday to promote ethics reform in Albany. They number more than a dozen.

She had refused earlier to comment on a report that her office was investigating longtime Sen. Carl Marcellino for allegedly billing taxpayers and his campaign for the same vehicle expenses.

"These are public records," Singas told reporters when pressed on the WNBC-TV report about the Marcellino probe. "I've asked my public corruption bureau to look at it and if there are any anomalies, if there is any action that we need to take we will take it. I'm not going to tolerate the public dime being utilized to pad someone's salary."

The WNBC report, citing campaign finance records, said Marcellino spent more than $20,000 of his campaign funds on automobile expenses from 2010 to 2013. The report added that the state reimbursed the Long Island Republican for $18,500 during the same period.

Marcellino, who has not been charged with wrongdoing, said in a statement issued by his spokeswoman that he has not been contacted by anyone in law enforcement. "He is confident that he has followed all laws and appropriate guidelines," spokeswoman Kathy Wilson said.

The revelations follow Thursday's indictment of Rockville Centre, Long Island's Dean Skelos, the former leader of the Senate, and his son on conspiracy and extortion charges. Earlier this year, federal prosecutors arrested Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, on charges that he took nearly $4 million in payoffs.

Silver, Skelos and his son have all pleaded not guilty.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, who attended the press conference, said, "If these allegations are proven, it's pretty sad.

"You don't need a statute to tell you that charging taxpayers and campaign expenses — double dipping — is wrong. This is not just an indictment of the lack of oversight in Albany, but also the culture of entitlement that exists. We need bold and sweeping ethics reform."

Singas spoke at the press conference with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to promote proposals he announced earlier this week to address ethics reform in Albany.

Schneiderman's bill would ban outside income by legislators while raising their pay, extending their terms from two to four years and require they document travel expenses instead of getting daily allowances.

It would lower legal campaign contributions and also close the loopholes for limited liability companies and political party housekeeping accounts. It would also establish a public financing option for state candidates.

His legislation would bar lobbyists from soliciting political contributions that benefit either a public official or party committee.

Schneiderman is also seeking permanent jurisdiction to investigate official bribery and fraud. It would make it easier to prosecute people who pay bribes, requiring only proving they intended to influence officials' decisions, and not that the official had the same understanding.

He did not comment on the report about Marcellino.

Lawmakers this year adopted new rules for claiming travel expenses to prevent someone from seeking reimbursement when they weren't actually in Albany. They also tweaked the rules for campaign finance to prohibit lawmakers from using campaign funds for purely personal expenses.

Earlier this month, longtime Queens Assemblyman William Scarborough pleaded guilty to theft and fraud, admitting he submitted at least $40,000 in false expense vouchers for per diem expenses when he didn't travel to Albany during the period from 2009 to 2012. In a letter of apology, he said he took advantage of a travel system where legislators were reimbursed when they said they were in Albany "basically with no questions asked."

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