Photo Courtesy of Sen. Sanders’s Office
State Sen. James Sanders, Jr.
By Michael V. Cusenza
While he was a city councilman, current State Sen. James Sanders, Jr. (D-South Richmond Hill) allegedly accepted 18 valuable gifts from a not-for-profit organization that was doing business with the City, including by receiving $841,000 in discretionary funding sponsored by Sanders, according to the City Conflicts of Interest Board.
Sanders allegedly accepted from the Margert Community Corporation: free accommodations at an all-inclusive resort in the Pocono Mountains for himself on five occasions, for his wife on four occasions, for his son on two occasions, and for his sister and nephew on one occasion; free tickets to a dinner cruise for family members (his sister, niece, and two nephews); and free flowers for his wife on another dinner cruise. In accepting each of these gifts, the now-former Council Member violated the City Charter, which prohibits a public servant from accepting any gift or series of gifts valued at $50 or more from a firm engaged in business dealings with the City. The board issued an order, after a full hearing before an Administrative Law Judge at the New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, imposing a $15,000 fine—the amount recommended by the OATH Administrative Law Judge—on Sanders.
The State senator’s comment to the 21-page COIB report, submitted by his attorney, made no new arguments to challenge the findings of the Administrative Law Judge, which are supported by documentary and testimonial evidence. Instead, Sanders repeated his closing argument that his acceptance of free accommodation at Woodloch for himself, his wife, his son, his sister, and his nephew and the free tickets to the September 2011 dinner cruise for his sister, niece, and two nephews did not constitute valuable gifts because the recipients of this free accommodation and attendance were serving as volunteers at events for seniors and, therefore, their attendance served a government purpose.
These arguments were specifically considered and rejected by the Administrative Law Judge.
As required by the City Charter, the board commences an enforcement action by sending a Notice of Initial Determination of Probable Cause detailing alleged violations of the City’s conflicts of interest law. The respondent has an opportunity to retain counsel, to respond to the Notice in writing, and to negotiate a pre-hearing settlement to resolve the allegations. If the respondent chooses to submit a response, the board reviews that response and any supporting documents and, only if the board finds that probable cause continues to exist to believe the alleged violations occurred, directs that a hearing be held at OATH to determine whether the alleged violations occurred. At OATH, the respondent is afforded another opportunity, prior to the hearing, to resolve the matter through a negotiated settlement. Following the hearing, the OATH Administrative Law Judge issues a report and recommendation detailing the factual determinations, legal conclusions, and recommended penalty. The board considers the report and recommendation in determining whether to issue an order finding that violations of the conflicts of interest law were committed and what fine, if any, to impose.