A longtime state assemblyman from Queens pleaded guilty Thursday to theft and fraud charges, admitting in federal court that he submitted at least $40,000 in false expense vouchers for days he didn't actually travel to Albany.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Democrat William Scarborough faces 10 to 16 months in jail. Under a plea agreement, he must repay $54,355 to the state and pay an equal amount in a federal penalty, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Coffman.
Scarborough faced a second hearing Thursday in state court where he had agreed to plead guilty to grand larceny for misusing campaign funds.
"These events that he faces today, for which he's taken full responsibility today, really do not detract from the life he's led and what he's accomplished," defense attorney E. Stewart Jones said. His client made bad decisions because of financial difficulties that started in 2008 but isn't making any excuses, he said.
Scarborough nodded as his lawyer spoke and declined to comment further, saying he stood by last week's statement. In it, he said he was unable to keep up with bills despite taking a second job at a college, angry that legislators hadn't had a raise in their $79,500 salary in 16 years because it's considered part-time while he actually worked far more at than the six-month legislative session.
"I made a terrible choice — to take advantage of a travel system where you simply said you were in Albany and were reimbursed, basically with no questions asked," Scarborough wrote.
Sentencing is scheduled Sept. 14. The felony convictions automatically remove the 69-year-old Scarborough, a former telecommunications salesman and community board district manager, from the Assembly. He was first elected in 1994.
Judge Thomas McAvoy, appearing in the Albany courthouse by video from Binghamton, warned Scarborough that he doesn't have to abide by the guidelines or prosecutors' recommended sentence, especially if he finds something amiss in a Scarborough's upcoming probation report.
Jones told the judge he plans to challenge the restitution amount claimed from 2009 to 2012 expenses.
It was calculated by FBI investigators based on per diem amounts paid to state legislators in Albany that ranged from $160 to $171 for overnights, $49 to $61 for partial days plus mileage and tolls over those four years.
Scarborough filed 198 vouchers in those four years for $147,400 altogether, including 174 with false information, Coffman said. They included claims for some overnight stays in Albany when the lawmaker was actually in Georgia and at home in Queens, he said.