A longtime Nassau County lawmaker has admitted to charging a client of his former law firm more than $2 million worth of legal services that he never performed over an eight-year span.
Nassau County Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) pleaded guilty Wednesday at Central Islip federal court to a felony charge of mail fraud. After surrendering to FBI agents last month, he had initially pleaded not guilty before being released on $500,000 bail. He resigned from office shortly before changing his plea.
“I want to apologize to my family, my friends, my supporters and my constituents for all that’s transpired,” Denenberg told reporters while flanked by supporters outside the courthouse. “I would like to think that no one fought harder.”
Prosecutors said in court documents that the eight-term legislator defrauded a Port Washington-based company while he served as the Intellectual Property Law department chief for Davidoff Malito & Hutcher LLP between November 2006 and June 2014.
Earlier this year, Denenberg left the law firm, which filed a lawsuit in September against him seeking to recoup the money, for which he has since paid restitution. Denenberg, who was running for a New York State Senate seat at the time, dropped out of the race later the same day. His would-be rival, Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa), went on to win the race.
“Denenberg used his license to practice law to steal, billing for phamtom work to steal money from a client who trusted him,” Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “Today’s conviction should serve as a reminder that no one is above the law.”
The disgraced lawmaker’s attorney, Jason Russo, said that he expects Judge Joanna Seybert to give a “fair sentence” at his next court appearance in May.
Following Denenberg’s resignation, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano will have to set a date for a special election to fill the vacant seat in the Republican-controlled legislature.
“Today is no doubt a hard day for our caucus in learning of the resignation of Legislator Denenberg,” Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said in a statement. “We are personally saddened for Dave and his family but are respectful of the judicial process and its outcome.”
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) echoed the sentiment.
“This is a very sad day for Mr. Denenberg’s family as well as the Nassau Legislature,” she said in a statement. “I will personally do all that I can to make sure the residents of Legislative District 19 are properly represented until the Legislative seat is filled.”