NEW YORK (Reuters) - Four individuals have been indicted on charges they stole taxpayer dollars that were supposed to be spent on public services in New York City, the state attorney general and state comptroller said on Wednesday.
The sum two defendants took was not particularly large -- just under $30,000. But the money was part of the $900 million in member items, nicknamed pork, that the state legislature has doled out to more than 20,000 nonprofit entities since 1999, the officials said in a joint statement.
The indictments are part of a criminal investigation, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.
"We will continue to work tirelessly to protect every penny of taxpayer money during these challenging economic times," the attorney general said in a statement.
Civic advocates have long blasted the state's practice of handing out so much money to individual legislators, who then use the funds for a variety of purposes. The projects and programs they fund are supposed to benefit the community but they also can boost the lawmakers' reelection chances.
State Senator Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat, set up a nonprofit, called the Parent Workshop, which got the taxpayer funds, the officials said.
But Patricia Savage, the nonprofit's president and Huntley's aide, and Lynn Smith, the nonprofit's treasurer and the senator's niece, who lives with the senator, failed to use the funds to hold workshops for parents and reach out to parents of public school pupils, the officials said.
Savage and Smith are charged with grand larceny in the third degree.
Another defendant, David Gantt, is charged with falsifying records to claim he was paid in cash for holding the workshops.
The fourth defendant, Roger Scotland, the president of the Southern Queens Park Association, is charged with creating a false record to try to hide the workshops theft.
(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Kenneth Barry)