Queens State Senator James Sanders told the Observer yesterday that he believed state and federal investigators have unfairly singled out black legislators–himself included.
Asked about recent claims by fellow Queens politician State Senator Malcolm Smith–under indictment for allegedly attempting to bribe his way onto the Republican mayoral ticket–that there is a conspiracy to take down the state’s black leadership, Mr. Sanders shied away from the word “conspiracy,” but said he agreed that African-American pols have been under especially intense scrutiny.
Mr. Sanders replaced State Senator Shirley Huntley last year after Ms. Huntley was arrested and convicted for embezzling, and reports surfaced last year that Mr. Sanders himself is under investigation for his relationship with a Queens nonprofit group.
He suggested that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and federal prosecutor Preet Bharara–who have indicted black elected officials like Ms. Huntley, Mr. Smith, Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, Brooklyn State Senator John Sampson, and Queens Councilman Ruben Wills–would be better off looking into pols targeted by the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, though he declined to name names.
“There’s an over-focus, and the Moreland Commission has revealed there are certain places where we need to look,” Mr. Sanders told the Observer. “One or two of them have appropriated more money than the entire group of blacks.”
The Moreland Commission was reportedly investigating Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s relationship with Maimonides Hospital, potentially inappropriate campaign expenditures by State Senators George Maziarz and Gregory Ball–who have since announced they will not seek re-election this year–and the dealings of 12 other politicians when Gov. Andrew Cuomo unceremoniously disbanded the panel in March.
“Any reading of the Moreland Commission would show where we really need to look,” Mr. Sanders said.
Mr. Sanders said he believed he himself had been unfairly targeted–though he added he thought Ms. Huntley was definitely guilty–but said he was unafraid of any review.
“I don’t mind,” Mr. Sanders told the Observer yesterday. “My house is in order, so people can look to their heart’s content.”
This is not the first time Mr. Sanders has suggested that prosecutors are targeting black politicians. The freshman senator criticized a slew of indictments and investigations into African-American officials at a forum last year entitled “Attack on Black Leaders: Corruption or Conspiracy?”
“Why aren’t we hearing about other people wired and looking at different communities? Why is it seemingly a focus on this community?” Mr. Sanders asked the crowd at the event last May. “Why are we allowing folk who’ve been in power longer–who are perhaps smarter and slicker, who are are more dangerous under those conditions and perhaps robbing far more–we leave them alone and we target these over here?”
Mr. Bharara’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Schneiderman’s office did not remark on Mr. Sanders’ statements, but did note that the vast majority of officials it has prosecuted have been white.
Mr. Bharara in fact has been looking into the Moreland Commission’s findings, and into Mr. Cuomo’s alleged interference in its functioning. Mr. Hikind’s case has reportedly been handed over to U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
Mr. Smith’s indictment also implicated white Republican Queens Councilman Dan Halloran, who was convicted last month.
Updated to include observation by Mr. Schneiderman’s office.