- Last Updated: 8:39 AM, April 6, 2013
- Posted: 1:14 AM, April 6, 2013
Agents were in his Washington Heights district last month talking to local leaders about the use of public funds by the Democrat, who last year nearly unseated longtime US Rep. Charles Rangel in a primary.
“FBI agents were asking about member items that Espaillat provided to community organizations,” a source said, referring to lawmakers’ practice of directing money to their districts.
Often derided as “pork-barrel spending,” member items are discouraged.
Most were for $5,000 or less, but a nonprofit, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Economic Development, got nearly $500,000 in increments of primarily $70,000 or $80,000, as first reported by The Post.
The group has employed Espaillat’s sister-in-law, his Democratic district leader and several consultants who worked for his campaigns.
The scrutiny comes as two other state lawmakers, Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson of The Bronx, were arrested in federal bribery cases this week.
Espaillat’s former chief of staff, Assemblyman Nelson Castro, is a key witness against Stevenson and revealed Thursday that he’s also an informant in other criminal investigations involving New York politicians.
Asked about the FBI agents’ inquiry, Espaillat spokesman Jonathan Davis responded, “Senator Espaillat’s support for community funding is completely transparent and based on the needs of his district.
“The senator has zero tolerance for corruption and has a flawless record of representing his constituents with integrity and conviction.”
Castro’s lawyer, Michael Farkas, declined to comment when asked whether Castro assisted in a probe of Espaillat. The FBI also declined to comment.
Espaillat’s coalition closed in 2011 when member items became discouraged and its executive director, Nurys de Oleo, landed a $50,000-a-year job as Espaillat’s special assistant.
Additional reporting by Erik Kriss and Josh Margolin