Brooklyn's Blood War

A soap-opera congressional race turns into a scandal of campaign-finance abuse

Her council committee paid $10,227 to cover the costs of the fundraiser but did not report receiving virtually any of the contributions raised at it. Instead, Boyland's congressional committee listed $102,000 in contributions received at the time of the event, an apparent end-run around federal laws, which bar transfers of funds from a city committee to a federal one.

Both the council and congressional committees delayed for months before finally making these deceptive filings. The council committee missed four filing deadlines between August 2003 and this January, making retroactive submissions on January 13 that included the Marriott expenses and covered nearly six months. The treasurer of the council committee signed each of these submissions on time, suggesting that the Boylands decided not to file completed forms. Then, on February 9, the congressional committee made its first filing, going back to July and listing the Marriott contributions.

By failing to list contributions raised by a council committee on the city forms, the committee appears to have committed a Class A misdemeanor. Reporting contributions solicited by a council committee as congressional donations may violate the fraudulent misrepresentation sections of federal election law, which carry jail sentences of up to five years.

Beyond timing, the contributions themselves suggest a duplicitous intent. Since Tracy Boyland opted out of the city's campaign finance system, her council committee did not have to comply with the charter-mandated ban on corporate contributions and instead could take business donations of up to $5000. So she collected a half-dozen $5000 contributions at the time of the Marriott fundraiser, as well as 35 other corporate checks, and reported them on her February congressional filing, where they were virtually all illegal. She was raising funds in compliance with one legal standard and then reporting the very same funds in abject violation of another.

In fact, a Voice examination of Boyland contributions reveals that nearly 70 percent of her $200,336 in contributions, or $138,900, are questionable. They either exceed the $2000 federal limits per election, originate with corporations and unions who can only give through political action committees, or come from limited liability companies (LLC's) that were not asked by Boyland if they met the complicated federal requirements that apply to them. The congressional committee claims to have already refunded an astounding $89,965, but Voice calculations indicate that it must refund or redesignate for the general election another $48,935. Incredibly, an FEC letter notes that 17 of the refunds, totaling $9000, were ascribed to entities whose contributions were never reported as received on congressional forms. Since these contributions were also not reported on council forms, it is a mystery where the money wound up.

That is hardly the only missing money. Donald Capoccia, for example, is a Manhattan housing developer close to Frank Boyland since the late '80s. His spokeswoman says he wrote four $2500 business checks to the congressional committee on February 27, but it reported receiving $21,500 from only three of Capoccia's LLCs, making him the campaign's largest donor. Since a partner contributing through an LLC legally eligible to give would be limited to $2000 for the primary and $2000 for the general, even Capoccia's $10,000 would be $6000 over the limit. But, since Frank Boyland agrees with Capoccia's numbers, where did the other $11,500 ascribed to Capoccia on the filings come from? Who donated that?

Similarly, ex-city councilman Ken Fisher, who attended the Marriott fundraiser and says he had no idea it was for a congressional campaign, insists that his law firm, Phillips Nizer, donated $500 on September 30. But the congressional committee lists Fisher personally, Phillips Nizer, and "Nizer Phillips" giving $500 each that day, for a total of $1500. The committee is reporting thousands it did not receive and not reporting other thousands it did receive. It has also not responded on time to many of the issues raised in the two FEC letters.

Capoccia's BFC Partners is one of at least four developers that have stakes in an ongoing major housing development aided by the Boylands—the $90 million Hope VI Prospect Plaza project—and have given to the campaign. He and the three others—Loewen Development, L&M Equities, and Michaels Development—have combined to give $49,500, with $11,000 of it already refunded and much of the rest illegal. Thousands more in donations come from contractors who have or are also doing construction aided by the Boylands, making this kind of transactional contribution by far the single greatest source of their campaign financing.


A Republican underside

Boyland's biggest backer, Capoccia, is usually a gigantic GOP donor—having illegally exceeded city limits by tens of thousands for Rudy Giuliani and bankrolled the state Republican committee in contributions as high as $25,000. A Bush donor as well, he was one of six gay activists appointed by Bush, serving on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts until his recent quiet resignation in protest of Bush's push for an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment.

But the far more potent GOP ties in the race are Yvette Clarke's, whose mother, Una, is a Pataki-patronage employee, serving as a staff director for the Empire State Development Corporation. Una Clarke spearheaded Pataki's re-election campaign in the Caribbean community in 2002, working with her close ally City Councilman Kendall Stewart, even while Yvette Clarke endorsed Carl McCall, the first black ever nominated for governor by a major party. Owens says Una Clarke is "attempting to build a Republican beachhead" in black Brooklyn, having aligned herself in 2002 with the Republican who ran against him. Even though Una Clarke recently paid the largest fine and penalty ever imposed by the city's Campaign Finance Board on a council candidate—$58,943, which the CFB had to pursue in court years later—Yvette Clarke has made her the treasurer of her congressional campaign.

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