The Daily Freeman published a pair of exposés on Friday that connects Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) to two projects that benefited from federal government spending — and at least one that paid off handsomely for his longtime business partner in New York, John Mullen.  The newspaper focused on two projects — one a sewer renovation earmark that directly impacted property in which Hinchey has a substantial financial interest, and the decision of the Army to buy land from Mullen for a new Reserve center.  How murky are these projects and Hinchey’s involvement?  Murky enough for Hinchey to refuse to answer questions … again.

First, the sewer renovation that Hinchey earmarked could directly improve his property — or indirectly:

U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey has a financial interest in the Partition Street Project, which is to be constructed within the village for which he secured $800,000 in federal funding for a sewer infrastructure project his office called “critical to the village’s commercial future.”

However, despite bragging in a press release that the renovation would include Partition Street, now the village of Saugerties and Hinchey’s office claims that they exaggerated the reach of the funding — but still didn’t entirely dismiss the idea that the Partition Street project would benefit from it:

A village official says U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey overstated at the outset the planned use of $800,000 in federal money to rehabilitate sewer lines.

In announcing the funding last fall, a Hinchey press release specifically mentioned rehabilitation of Partition Street infrastructure from Main Street to the Esopus Creek bridge. Lines along that route would have run past the Partition Street Project, a hotel and conference center in which the congressman, a Hurley Democrat, has a property interest.

VILLAGE Planner Alex Wade said the press release was wrong about the scope of work and that only one section — involving lines running away from Partition Street along the Esopus Creek to an area behind Price Chopper — was planned to be upgraded.

Wade said the village still could choose to use the money for the lines that run in front of the property co-owned by Hinchey, but had not intended to make that a priority even when the press release was issued.

One problem not addressed in this denial is the fact that money is fungible.  If the $800K doesn’t go directly to improving sewer access to Hinchey’s property, it still allows the village to use other monies that the earmark allows them to save to complete that part of their renovations.  Dumping $800K into a town for property improvements where Hinchey owns commercial property may not quite trip the Ethics Committee threshold for corruption, but it is an example of at least indirectly improving personal finances at the expense of federal taxpayers, who may wonder why they’re paying for a sewer line in New York at all.

That might smell as badly as the sewer on its own, but the Daily Freeman found more.  This isn’t Hinchey’s first interest in improving property in the village where he owns property, and the result was a windfall for Mullen:

Hinchey also secured funding for infrastructure improvements along Kings Highway in 2006 and 2008 before the federal government purchased property there in November for the Army Reserve Center project from a group that includes John Mullen, a partner of Hinchey’s in the Partition Street Project. Hinchey says the grant was a response to a request from the town supervisor and the timing proves there was no direct connection to the Army Reserve Center project, which he said he did not know about before it was announced.

HINCHEY, D-Hurley, said his only involvement in the planned Partition Street Project development on the former Cantine Mill property is as a partial owner of the land. He said he owns a quarter of the land, while Thomas Struzzieri, executive director of the Horse Shows in the Sun equestrian operation in Saugerties, owns half, and Mullen, of J. Mullen and Sons, owns another quarter.

Hinchey said although he lists the land as an asset on his congressional financial filings, he has no direct involvement in efforts to develop the property into a hotel and conference center. …

Town of Saugerties Supervisor Gregory Helsmoortel said the municipality approached Hinchey for assistance with the project as early as 2000. He said getting the project done was one of his campaign promises in 1999. Helsmoortel said the water and sewer lines were desired as a way to improve economic development on Kings Highway.

THE 11.4-ACRE property where the Army Reserve Center is being built was purchased by the federal government from Leading Edge Developers for $495,000 in November 2009. Leading Edge still owns two other parcels, according to tax maps, on either side of the Army Reserve Center property. The federal government also purchased a 3.5-acre parcel for $105,000 from Across River Properties. Across River had purchased the property from Leading Edge for $95,000 in 2006.

Mullen and business partner John Tabler originally purchased the Kings Highway property for $225,000 in 2000 before transferring it to Leading Edge. Leading Edge purchased another property for $10,000 in 2002.

So Mullen made a $270K profit off of the sale of this parcel, helped in no small measure by the highway improvements federal taxpayers also funded — through the efforts of Mullen’s business partner Maurice Hinchey.

Yid with Lid blasted the arrangement over the weekend:

On top of it all, the paperwork that Hinchey was required to file about the sewer project not being a conflict of interest was never sent to the village, “everything was verbal.” And don’t forget the federal dollars being used to help his two partners.

Even if all of these coincidences were totally innocent, the fact that they exist shows that Congressman Hinchey has a total disregard for his constituents. Hinchey should have known that these deals smell like corruption and should have been avoided them at all costs.  Corrupt or not, Maurice Hinchey is an example of what is wrong with politics today.

It’s unclear if Hinchey did anything illegal, or in violation of House Ethics rules, but the conclusion here is inescapable.  Hinchey and his business partners have had a string of “coincidental” successes thanks to Hinchey’s pork-barrel politics.  It’s a clear signal that Hinchey has been around Congress too long, and if any of this doesn’t violate House Ethics rules, then perhaps the same can be said for the members of that committee as well.

Tags: New York