Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has been fined $20,000 by the city's Conflicts of Interest Board for accepting free travel and other accommodations for his wife on trips to Turkey and the Netherlands.
The panel released its ruling Monday, saying that Markowitz had violated the City Charter provision that prohibits public servants from using their positions to obtain financial gain or personal advantage. The board noted that Markowitz is allowed to accept free travel for business purposes, but is barred from doing so for his wife.
At a hearing earlier this year before an administrative law judge, Markowitz sought to argue that his wife is considered "the First Lady of Brooklyn," and therefore has an official role similar to that of the nation's first lady.
"The comparison is inapt," the judge wrote in a May decision."There is simply no meaningful comparison between the role of First Lady of the United States and the First Lady of Brooklyn."
The board said Markowitz accepted up to $4,999 worth of travel arrangements for his wife paid for by the country of Turkey in May 2007. He then solicited and received up to $39,999 worth of expenses for his wife paid for by the Netherlands in March 2009. Later that year, the panel said, he accepted more expenses paid by Turkey.
The conflicts of interest panel said Markowitz asked the board for its opinion before the first trip, and was told he should pay for his wife's expenses.
Markowitz did not dispute receiving the paid travel for his wife, but argued that the conduct did not violate the City Charter, or at least, that the board had not explicitly say that it would be violation.
The administrative law judge "did not find those arguments persuasive, nor does this board," COIB said in its ruling.
Markowitz had also argued at the hearing that neither he nor his wife received a personal advantage because the trips were all business.
"There is some merit to this point," the administrative law judge said, noting that the itineraries showed scant personal time. Ultimately, though, the judge decided that the mere opportunity for the wife to travel at little or no cost was a personal benefit.
Markowitz had also told the judge that he is "not a good flyer" and needed his wife with him to perform his official duties. The judge said choosing to travel was his decision, and once he made it, bringing his wife was a personal advantage.
The borough president said in a statement Monday that he was not ashamed of what he did and said the fine was unfair.
"When Jamie and I were on these trips, foreign officials looked at us as a team and my wife and I were proud to represent Brooklyn and New York," Markowitz said.