New York State lawmakers who received campaign donations from an insurance company and executives implicated in a high-profile corruption case said they were unaware of these funds and may donate the equivalent to charity.
William Rapfogel was arrested on Tuesday for his alleged role in a criminal scheme while he helmed the nonprofit Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. The state Attorney General charges that Rapfogel arranged to overpay the organization’s insurer, Long Island–based Century Coverage, in order to facilitate campaign contributions to targeted city, state and federal legislators as well as payments to Rapfogel himself.
The case has shaken the state Assembly, where speaker Sheldon Silver employs Rapfogel’s wife as chief of staff and has received several thousand dollars in campaign donations from the insurer and its CEO.
In all, dating back to 2001, the earliest year available in online records, 10 current or past Assembly members received funds totaling at least $15,000 from Century Coverage staff or the company itself for their campaigns for a seat in the legislative body, according to New York State Board of Elections data. Another $9,000 has gone to SpeakerPAC, a political action committee controlled by Silver.
The money trail also leads to New York City’s council, the state Senate and federal offices. Contributions tied to Century Coverage staff and to the company to campaigns for elected offices in New York City add up to about $150,000 according to data from the Campaign Finance Board.
Donations from the Century Coverage’s CEO, its president and the company itself to state Senate campaigns amount to at least $19,000.
In the state Assembly, top beneficiaries other than Silver are former Assemblymember Vito Lopez, whose campaign fund took in some $5,000, and Queens Assemblymember David Weprin.
Weprin received just over $1,000 as an Assembly candidate in 2010 and 2011, and obtained another $6,500 as a candidate for his New York City Council and comptroller.
Assemblymember Weprin’s office did not return requests for comment. Neither did the offices of other city and state lawmakers who received Century-connected funds, including state Senator Martin Golden, Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, and council members Peter Vallone, Jessica Lappin, James Oddo and Jumaane Williams – all of whom received campaign donations tied to Century Coverage.
But two Assembly members who did respond said they were unaware the funds their campaigns for state office had accepted might have been connected to a larger scheme.
Assemblymember Peter Abbate, a veteran legislator who represents parts of southern Brooklyn, received a $300 contribution from Century Coverage’s CEO Joseph Ross for his 2008 campaign.
“Who’s Century Coverage?” asked Assemblymember Abbate, while vacationing in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. “I have no knowledge. I’ll ask my treasurer.”
As for Rapfogel’s arrest, “When I get back to New York I’ll read about it I guess. It’s not a big story in Georgia.”
Abbate played down the significance of the donation – “You don’t influence anyone with $300” – but said he may nevertheless relinquish the money. “We’ll see. Probably I’ll give it to some group, to some charity or something.
Assemblymember and assistant Speaker Pro Tempore Harvey Weisenberg said he was also unaware of the donations he had received from Century Coverage’s CEO – a single $150 contribution in 2006.
“If you would say to me ‘Hey listen you got $5,000,’ I would know who the hell that came from, but $100? I have no idea,” he said.
Returning the funds to the donor is an option, the assembly member said, though not his preferred course of action.
“Listen, it’s not worth the effort, I mean if I’m advised to do so I’m happy to do it, but you know what? I’d rather give it to somebody who can use the money than give it to this crap.”