After serving as Brooklyn’s District Attorney for more than two decades, Charles Hynes faced his toughest re-election campaign last fall. It came amid charges that his office was complicit in or willfully blind to police misconduct that led to dozens of potential wrongful conviction; that he had gone easy on Orthodox Jewish men accused of sexual abuse in order to strengthen political ties to the community; and that his prosecutors had manipulated or withheld evidence in certain high-profile cases. He lost the race, but he put up a strange and ferocious fight. After Ken Thompson beat Hynes in the Democratic primary, Hynes ran in the general election as a Republican, only to lose by a larger margin.
Hynes’s fight to hold his seat, however, was not just strange but illegal, a new report by the city’s Department of Investigations suggests. The report states that Hynes may have used money seized from criminal defendants to help finance his campaign.
From January 1, 2013 to November 26, 2013, Hynes’s office issued two to three checks each month to political consultant Mortimer Matz, “from what appears to be a sub-account titled ‘ASSET FORFEITURE,'” the report states. This qualifies as improper use of the state asset-forfeiture fund, which is only supposed to be used for law enforcement purposes.
During 2012 and 2013, the Brooklyn D.A.’s office paid Matz a total of $219,924.
Hynes, however, attempted to hide Matz’s role. The office had ostensibly hired Matz in 2003 as a PR man, according to the report. The invoices, which passed through the Deputy District Attorney Dino Amoroso and Chief Assistant District Attorney Amy Feinnstein, listed Matz work as “Public Relations and Communication Services rendered.”
“Based on the DOI’s investigation to date,” the report states, “it appears that Matz provided few if any actual public relations and communication services” to the office. Instead, “DOI’s review suggests that Matz was serving primarily if not exclusively as a political consultant to Hynes personally, and that he had a major role in orchestrating Hynes’ 2013 reelection campaign.” Between 2003 and 2013, the report states, the office paid Matz around $1.1 million.
This was not the only person with a questionable role in Hynes’ campaign. The investigation also found that a high-ranking sitting judge improperly advised Hynes on his political activities. New York State Supreme Court Judge Barry Kamins, the administrative judge for the city’s criminal courts, helped Hynes craft attacks on Thompson.
“Lack of experience in supervising a large number of attorneys,” Kamins wrote in an email, responding to Hynes’ request for suggestions on how to criticize Thompson. “Until he puts forth a plan or set of goals, one must assume that he is not qualified to run the office.”
In addition, according to the report, Hynes improperly enlisted “the help and support” of his D.A.’s office staff for his campaign, including during work hours. It lists 20 examples but notes that investigators found more than 5,000 campaign-related emails on Hynes’s official work account.
Hynes could face felony larceny charges for the asset forfeiture misuse, as well as charges of official misconduct for that and the other allegations. It is up to the attorney general to decide if Hynes will face criminal charges.
The report notes that the investigation stemmed from complaints the DOI received from two “government entities” in November 2013. As it happens, the report’s findings have emerged under Mark Peters, who took over as the DOI’s commissioner this year. Peter ran for Brooklyn District Attorney in 2005 and lost to Hynes.