The New York political scene has been shaken up by the revelation that a former New York state senator sentenced to prison Thursday on corruption charges had recorded six of her colleagues as part of her cooperation with the FBI.
Former state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, days after it was revealed that information caught on an FBI wire she wore led to the arrest of Sen. John Sampson (D-Queens) on corruption charges. Huntley is the second former lawmaker in the last several weeks to admit to wearing a wire, with former Assemblyman Nelson Castro (D-Bronx) using one in an investigation that led to the arrest of Assemblyman Eric Stevenson (D-Bronx).
Huntley and Castro's cooperation with federal investigators is leading to questions of whether the New York legislature will be able to function.
"Legislators are suspicious of each other and they have to debate," Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at SUNY New Paltz, told The Huffington Post. "They can't debate if they are all wired."
Benjamin noted that in Castro's case, he wore a wire for three years, after he was secretly indicted on corruption charges by the FBI. He was allowed to remain in office while aiding in the investigation, but the circumstances are concerning to Benjamin. Castro resigned last month.
Huntley wore an FBI wire last summer, prior to her August 2012 arrest. She later pled guilty. The details of Huntley's involvement, including the names of the senators, were revealed in court documents Wednesday.
The rise in legislators wearing wires is fairly new, but not surprising. Jeffrey Hoffman, a criminal defense attorney in New York City, told HuffPost that while wires have largely been confined to organized crime cases, they are starting to be used more frequently for corruption cases. In 2009, an FBI informant used a wire as part of a corruption sting in New Jersey.
Hoffman noted that he was not surprised by Huntley and Castro wearing the wires, since their cooperation will likely deliver them lesser sentences than they would have received.
Former Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith (D-St. Louis), now a political science professor at The New School in New York City, has expertise in the subject that few lawmakers would have. His 2009 arrest in connection with a charge of misusing campaign funds in a 2004 congressional bid came as the result of a fellow lawmaker, who was his best friend, wearing a wire. Smith himself had declined an offer to wear a wire. He pled guilty and served time in a minimum security federal prison facility.
Smith said he did not feel comfortable with the idea of wearing a wire.
"It just wasn't something I felt capable of doing," Smith said. "I did not feel capable of wearing a wire, especially on people I worked with everyday. I did not have any reason to believe that people were acting illegally. My case was different. Mine was an isolated incident from a campaign five years earlier."
Hoffman said he is not so sure expanded wire-wearing will end all corruption in Albany, noting that it has not stopped other prior defendants from illegal acts for which they are later arrested.
"I am constantly stunned that it doesn't stop it," he said. "Humanity is such that while people may have a concern, they don't think it will happen to them. It happens over and over again. It doesn't follow logic."