Ethics board deals record fine to former DA for abusing office during campaign

DA Hynes: I’m still a Dem at heart — just running as a Republican
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Now he’s the one in trouble.

Ethics watchdogs slapped Brooklyn’s embattled former top prosecutor with the highest fine ever dealt by the city for illegal campaign-related activities, after he admitted to abusing his government e-mail during a contentious 2013 re-election bid he ultimately lost.

Former District Attorney Charles Hynes, a Flatbush native who ran the office from 1990 to 2014, sent more than 5,000 electronic missives to newspapers, campaign managers, political consultants, donors, allies, employees and a New York State Supreme Court judge from his municipal account in an attempt to defeat opponent Ken Thompson — who won the race, but died from cancer just two years into his term in 2016.

And last Friday, members of the city’s Conflict of Interest Board delivered the $40,000 fine to Hynes after investigating hundreds of his e-mails — the panel’s biggest penalty of its kind, according to the board.

The largest fine delivered by the watchdog group, for $84,000, was issued to former New York City sheriff Kerry Katsorhis in 1998, after he stood trial for ethics violations, records show.

The Conflict of Interest Board also slapped four of Hynes’ then employees in the district attorney’s office — one of whom still works as a prosecutor under District Attorney Eric Gonzalez — with fines for $6,000, $4,500, $3,000, and $1,000.

One of the staffers fessed up to knowingly using her government e-mail to fire off the campaign’s responses to a Village Voice report alleging Hynes received donations that influenced the prosecution of a case, and to criticism of the former district attorney’s relationship with the disgraced former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who died in 2015.

Another — who received the stiffest of the fines dealt to Hynes’ employees — claimed at the time that he didn’t know using his municipal account for campaign business was wrong.

Hynes — who the Feds also investigated in 2014 for possibly misusing public funds to run his failed 2013 re-election bid, before dropping the probe — took full responsibility for violating the city’s ethics codes, and apologized to those underlings who bore the brunt of his wrongdoing.

“In the midst of a feverishly contested primary race, I made the mistake of using my city e-mail for campaign-related matters,” he said a statement. “If anyone is to blame for this, it should be me and me alone.”

But Hynes’ hefty penalty is a small price to pay compared to the millions of dollars taxpayers forked over in settlements the city made with people wrongfully convicted under his more than two-decade tenure.

A conviction-review unit Thompson established in 2014 has since exonerated 24 individuals — about half of whom were convicted before Hynes was first elected — and those decisions resulted in a whopping $101,903,125 in reparations to wrongful-conviction victims, according to records this newspaper obtained from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office through a Freedom of Information Law request.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.