The names caught up in ex-State Sen. Shirley Huntley’s wire-tapping efforts were revealed Wednesday afternoon, leaving elected officials and staffers scrambling to respond to news that they were most likely the subjects of ongoing federal investigations.
The U.S. Attorney’s office had revealed that eight of the nine individuals secretly recorded by Ms. Huntley in an effort to minimize her sentence on embezzlement charges “remain the subjects of ongoing criminal investigations.” And while some offices appeared to be prepared for the news, others seemed completely caught-off-guard. Others still have yet to comment.
The list includes a slew of Democratic lawmakers, including City Councilman Ruben Wills, State Sen. Eric Adams, who is running for Brooklyn borough president, Sen. Jose Peralta, who is running for Queens borough president, and Sen. John Sampson, who was arrested earlier this week on unrelated embezzlement charges.
Also named were Melvin Lowe, somewhat questionably identified by Ms. Huntley’s lawyer as a “former political consultant and associate of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman” and Curtis Taylor, a former staffer to Sen. Malcolm Smith, who was also named.
Ruben Wills’ campaign was the first to jump to his defense, insisting that he was the one innocent lawmaker of the bunch.
“My attorney has been in contact with federal law enforcement authorities and he has been informed that I am NOT the target of any investigation arising from proceedings involving Shirley Huntley,” the councilman said in a statement sent out by his campaign. “I have personally not been contacted by any law enforcement officials to date and I look forward to continuing the work of the people of southeast Queens that elected me.”
Mr. Adams issued his response, also via a campaign spokesman, around 4:30 p.m., two-and-a-half hours after the names were unsealed. In it, he said that he had not been contacted by prosecutors about any investigation.
“I believe deeply in transparency and the pursuit of justice—and that is why I committed 20 years of my life to law enforcement,” he said, adding: “I am more than willing to help with any investigation.”
Of the few who have responded, only Queens State Sen. Jose Peralta appeared to acknowledge the possibility that he was the subject of an investigation–but said he believed his name would be cleared in the end.
“I am confident that the authorities will find, if they have not already done so, that I have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever,” his campaign spokesman said in a statement, issued nearly three hours after the release.
In a statement, a spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who once indicted Ms. Huntley, also tried to distance himself from Mr. Lowe, one of the two non-electeds named.
“Throughout his career, Attorney General Schneiderman has demonstrated a commitment to rooting out political corruption. He was the first prosecutor to indict Shirley Huntley last summer,” he said in a statement. “Shirley Huntley’s reference to him in her sentencing statement appears to be an attempt at retaliation against Attorney General Schneiderman, who has never hired Melvin Lowe or used his services. He will continue to use every tool at his disposal to ensure New Yorkers have the open and honest government they deserve.”
A source in Mr. Schneiderman’s office also pointed to work Mr. Lowe has done for other officials, adding: “The notion that Schneiderman had a business relationship with Lowe is ridiculous.”
The senate office of Velmanette Montgomery still has yet to comment despite multiple inquiries. Mr. Smith and Mr. Sampson have maintained their innocence.
Update (7:35 p.m.):
In a statement, State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson said she was “perplexed” to learn that she had been included on the list and said she was confident her name would be cleared.
“Having devoted my entire life to public service, with integrity and purpose, I was perplexed to learn my name was mentioned in the sentencing memorandum submitted by counsel for Shirley Huntley,” she said. “To be sure, Shirley Huntley invited me to lunch in 2012. We met and spoke, in general, about matters including our health and our families. At no time–past or present–did we discuss anything inappropriate, improper or illegal. My record is above reproach. I am certain, as are my colleagues and my constituents, that the government’s investigation has already cleared my name and affirmed my credibility.”