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Borough President Markowitz abused his government position by scoring three free overseas trips for his wife, a city ethics panel ruled on Monday, but the Beep defiantly denied the allegation.
The City Conflicts of Interest Board’s decision is based on a May ruling by an administrative law judge stating that Markowitz should not have allowed the governments of Turkey and the Netherlands to pay some expenses for his better half, Jamie, during trips to those countries. According to city law, the Beep can accept free business-related travel, but can’t bring a plus-one.
“[Markowitz] received the trips abroad because of his position as borough president of Brooklyn and his wife went on all three trips because of her relationship with him,” wrote Judge Kevin Casey. “By accepting travel expenses for his wife, [Markowitz] used his position as a public servant for private or personal advantage.”
Two of the three freebie excursions took place in 2009, the year that the Beep accepted more free travel than any other elected official in the city, according to financial records released by the board.
And the Beep may have misled the city about his wife being comped. He wrote to the board before an August, 2007, trip to promote Brooklyn in Turkey that he would “pay for [his wife’s] airfare, meals and incidental expenses.” The Beep did pay for his wife’s overseas flight, but the Turkish government comped her hotel, meals and flight between two Turkish cities.
Markowitz defiantly insists that he never tried to hide his spouse’s perks.
“The only way the board found out about these trips was voluntary disclosure,” he said in a statement. He also asserted that the punishment is absurd because Jamie is “the First Lady of Brooklyn.”
“I am not ashamed of what I did, and I do not think this fine is fair or even sane,” Markowitz said. “When Jamie and I were on these trips foreign officials looked at us as a team.”
Casey disagreed in his ruling.
“The respondent’s wife does not have any official role in the borough president’s office,” Casey wrote. “Even though she actively participated in some of the events abroad, her attendance was not required. … There’s simply no meaningful comparison with the First Lady of the United States.”
It is unclear why Jamie Markowitz, who works part time as a graphic designer for City Tech in Downtown, joined her husband on the trips, judging by the itineraries.
In the Netherlands, for example, Markowitz was on hand to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s journey to New York. Both Markowitzes wined and dined with local mayors, spoke at ceremonies, and minted a coin in honor of Hudson.
The couple also visited hospitals, religious centers and development projects.
Markowitz appears to be the only local official with this kind of ethnical transgression. When Council Speaker Christine Quinn got a free junket to Belfast in 2009, she brought her father along — but paid for all his expenses, the board ruled.
Markowitz can appeal his penalty to the State Supreme Court, but told the New York Post that he will “pay the g—damn fine.”
The $20,000 fine is based on the travel expenses that Jamie racked up: $3,000 for the 2007 Turkey trip, $7,000 for the 2009 Netherlands trip and $10,000 for a second trip to Turkey in 2009. The maximum penalty that the board can impose on a city official who abused his position is $30,000.
This isn’t Markowitz’s first brush with the ethics panel. In February, the board hit the Beep with a $2,000 fine for using his chief of staff as his lawyer during a personal real-estate closing.
And it’s not the first time that Jamie Markowitz was involved in a story about misappropriated perks. Two years ago, she made headlines for swiping eight placemats designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and intended as parting gifts at a Brooklyn Museum gala.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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