New York

Cuomo Nemesis Is Charged With Campaign Fraud

Steven McLaughlin, a former New York assemblyman known for his outspoken criticism of former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with stealing thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to settle a personal debt.

Mr. McLaughlin, a Republican now serving as the executive of Rensselaer County, N.Y., was accused of withdrawing $5,000 from his campaign fund in November 2017 when he was still a member of the State Assembly to satisfy a debt to an aide. Mr. McLaughlin steered the money to a political consulting firm with which he had close ties, Hudson Valley Strategies, which then cut a check of $3,500 to Mr. McLaughlin’s staff member, the indictment said.

Mr. McLaughlin was charged with two felony counts, including grand larceny in the third degree, which carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison. He would be removed from office if he is convicted of a felony.

The charges against Mr. McLaughlin, who was arraigned before Judge Jennifer Sober of Rensselaer County Court and later released, marked the culmination of a yearslong investigation conducted by the state attorney general’s office and the F.B.I.

The indictment unveiled on Wednesday also charges Mr. McLaughlin with filing fraudulent documents with the State Board of Elections after funneling the $5,000 from his campaign account.

The debt had sparked a dispute between Mr. McLaughlin and the aide. When he gave the $3,500 check to the employee, he also returned the aide’s laptop and iPad, both of which had been in his possession, according to a news release from Letitia James, the state attorney general.

The indictment did not name the aide with whom Mr. McLaughlin feuded over the debt, but The Times Union of Albany identified her as Jennifer R. Polaro, who had worked as his chief of staff.

Mr. McLaughlin, of Troy, N.Y., was first elected county executive of Rensselaer County, which borders the Hudson River near Albany, in 2017, after serving in the State Assembly since 2011.

His departure from the lower chamber was tarnished by a finding by the chamber’s ethics committee that he had asked a female staff member for naked pictures. Mr. McLaughlin, who was sanctioned and received an official admonition from the Assembly speaker, denied having sexually harassed anyone.

Over the years, Mr. McLaughlin has inflated his profile through his persistent criticism of Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who resigned in August following a sexual harassment scandal.

Mr. McLaughlin is known for his bombastic and often divisive rhetoric, such as the time he said that Mr. Cuomo had acted like Hitler and Mussolini in his push to approve strict new gun laws in 2013. His comments were condemned by leaders of both parties, and he was forced to later apologize.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. McLaughlin frequently lashed out on Twitter against the former governor’s policies in nursing homes. He also railed against Mr. Cuomo’s economic restrictions, declaring at one point in May 2020 that his county would not enforce the governor’s executive orders that had shut down businesses.

In a Twitter post two days before Thanksgiving, Mr. McLaughlin lamented that Mr. Cuomo and at least three of his top aides “should all be under arrest already.”

Mr. McLaughlin, who could not be reached for comment, was re-elected to a second four-year term as county executive by a wide margin this year.

His attorney did not immediately return a request for comment. Mr. McLaughlin has until Jan. 17 to enter a plea.

Grace Ashford contributed reporting.



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