Updated 10/19/2010 10:36 PM
Monserrate Pleads Not Guilty To Mail Fraud Charges
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Disgraced former Queens State Senator Hiram Monserrate was indicted Tuesday on mail fraud charges in connection with the City Council slush fund scandal.
Monserrate surrendered to federal authorities earlier in the morning and pleaded not guilty to the two charges in Manhattan federal court.
Each charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
The charges stem from an investigation into the former not-for-profit agency Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment (LIBRE) that more than $100,000 in tax dollars while Monserrate was a member of the City Council.
The investigation found that campaign workers from Monserrate's first failed State Senate run used public money intended for charity and used it to get signatures for petitions, register voters, and perform other campaign jobs.
"No campaign should ever be funded by fraud. Public officials who act like they are above the law may get away with it for a while but we will find you and we will prosecute you," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. "And the case of Hiram Monserrate is only the latest example of this office's commitment to punishing those who think they can divert taxpayer dollars into their own personal checking account or use them to advance their self interest over the public interest."
"We will absorb the facts and digest them, but I will tell you that he has the resolve to defend these charges rigorously as he has defended these charges in the past and we will take it from there," said Joseph Tacopina, Monserrate's attorney.
NY1 Political commentator Gerson Borrero broke the story on his website TheBorreroReport.
"And while he's off the scene, Monserrate is the gift that keeps on giving," said Borrero. "There's a trail of ill doing allegedly that will continue to haunt us in terms of reporting on it."
On Monday, prosecutors said a former LIBRE employee who pled guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud charges is cooperating in their ongoing investigation.
Monserrate won his State Senate seat in 2008, but was booted earlier this year after being convicted of misdemeanor assault against his girlfriend.
Some of Monserrate's former constituents were divided over the charges.
"Someone we supposed to look up to, he ain't setting a good example. It's real bad for the community," said one Queens resident.
"A lot of politicians up there, you think they are doing public services and helping out but in reality you really don't know what goes on behind the scenes," said a second.
"He deserves the opportunity to be found innocent or guilty and I think that we should not make judgement until he is given the opportunity to prove himself," said a third.
Last month, Queens voters rejected Monserrate's bid to get back into politics, when he lost to Francisco Moya in the Democratic primary for State Assembly.
Monserrate was released Tuesday on $500,000 bond, which was secured by his parent's house.
He is due back in court on December 2.