Clement Gardner, a campaign aide to State Senator Ruben Diaz, was charged today with embezzling $75,000 from a charity founded by the senator. In a press release announcing the indictment, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office is continuing its investigation into the charity and accused Mr. Gardner of using the Christian Community Benevolent Association, which operated senior centers and children’s services as “a personal piggy bank.”
“Today’s charges demonstrate our vigilance in ensuring that every taxpayer dollar is spent properly, and that corrupt individuals who betray the public trust to line their own pockets will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Mr. Schneiderman said.
Mr. Gardner is charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree. The alleged thefts occurred between January 1, 2004 and May 3, 2007 when Mr. Gardner served as fiscal officer of the CCBA. According to Mr. Schneiderman’s release announcing the charges, Mr. Gardner “co-signed at least $75,000 in unauthorized checks to himself” and “devised false memo lines for each payment to escape detection, endorsed the checks to himself, and cashed these checks or deposited them into his personal bank account.”
The indictment said Mr. Gardner made statements admitting the scheme to an FBI agent in May 2007 as part of an ongoing investigation into the CCBA. Mr. Gardner allegedly said he used the money for “normal living expenses” because CCBA stopped paying him in December 2006 because it did not have an approved budget. Though Mr. Gardner said he used the money for standard expenses, he also admitted he had a gambling habit. Mr. Gardner said he won $28,000 “at the horse races” in 2007, but “lost more money than he won.” CCBA received approximately $495,000 in legislative member item grants between 2006 and 2007.
It was not immediately clear why Mr. Gardner was only charged today. As of this writing, Mr. Schneiderman’s office has not responded to our request for clarification on that point. A family member answered the phone at Mr. Gardner’s residence and declined to comment. Mr. Diaz also has not responded to a request for comment, but according to the Albany Times Union, he vehemently denied any impropriety on his party when “confronted by reporters” in front of the Senate chamber this afternoon.
“I’m shocked … if it is true I feel betrayed,” Mr. Diaz said. “That is a benevolent organization … they have been checking [my appropriation of member item funding] from left to right and found nothing.
Mr. Diaz’s use of member item funds previously raised questions in 2006 after it was discovered he directed $1.2 million from the Legislature to a community group that employed his stepmother and his mother.