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20th January

First Published in The New York Sun, January 20, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

A Bronx state senator appears to have used money raised to pay campaign expenses to fight his ex-wife’s demands for the payment of child support. She claims that the money is needed for the care of the senator’s son, who suffers from a severe developmental disability, according to state campaign finance records.
State Senator Efrain Gonzalez Jr. is already the subject of a federal probe over the use of campaign funds to fund a “phantom” nonprofit group.

State campaign finance records disclose that,on October 26 of last year,Mr. Gonzalez paid $1,500 to Deborah Reyes, an attorney in upstate Amsterdam.The funds were drawn on the account of “Friends of Senator Gonzalez.”
During the period between October and December, Mr. Gonzalez was engaged in a court battle with his ex-wife, Jeanette Carlomano, over support of their dependent son. Ms. Reyes represented Mr. Gonzalez in that action. Ms. Reyes’s law practice does not appear to include areas of legal representation typically paid for with campaign funds. The firm advertises itself as specialists in personal injury, wills, estates, divorce, custody, child support, drunk driving, and traffic tickets.

“If Senator Gonzalez used his campaign treasury to facilitate an attempt to avoid paying child support, this would be the ultimate in political chutzpah,” said Israel Ruiz Jr., a former City Council member who challenged Mr. Gonzalez in the Democratic primary last year.As the incumbent senator’s legal woes multiply, Mr. Ruiz is eyeing another attempt at a return to public life.

According to a Manhattan attorney who specializes in election and campaign law, Jerry Goldfeder, it is illegal to use campaign funds for a personal legal matter. The law states that funds cannot be used “unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position.”

The controversial use of campaign funds for the defense of another troubled Bronx official, convicted state Senator Guy Velella, appears to fall into a different category. It is said to be covered by the guidelines set by the state Board of Elections in a 1989 advisory opinion, which determined that public officials can use campaign funds to pay for defense lawyers in matters related to the position they hold.

In August, subpoenas were issued to Mr. Gonzalez, his common-law wife Lucia Sanchez, who was also a member of the state Senate staff under Mr. Gonzalez’s direction, and a number of other key Bronx elected and Democratic Party officials.

Among the issues under investigation are the finances of the West Bronx Neighborhood Association, a nonprofit entity controlled by Mr. Gonzalez. Campaign records show that $39,000 in Gonzalez campaign funds have been transferred to this group. Other Bronx elected officials who have established and funded similar groups are also said to be under scrutiny.

Efforts to reach Mr. Gonzalez, Ms. Reyes, and Ms. Carlomano were unsuccessful. Murray Richman, who represents Mr. Gonzalez in the criminal matter, had no comment.

Another Bronx politician has apparently found a way to improve the family finances in a manner that is increasingly becoming the Bronx status quo.

Anna Torres has been named the deputy chief clerk at the Bronx Board of Elections. This position is filled by the Bronx Democratic Party under state election law. Ms.Torres is the wife of West Bronx Assemblyman Luis Diaz.

She fills the position just vacated by Naomi Rivera, who has just been sworn in as a member of the State Assembly. Ms. Rivera is the daughter of the Bronx County Democratic Leader, Jose Rivera. Mr. Rivera represents an adjoining district in the Assembly and is also the father of City Council majority leader Joel Rivera.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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