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Local Council Members Accused In Daily News Probe

April 21, 2011

By JEANMARIE EVELLY

A series of New York Daily News articles published last month highlighted the alleged misdeeds of a number of New York City Council members, including several local Bronx representatives.

Councilmen Fernando Cabrera, Joel Rivera and Oliver Koppell were among those mentioned in the series of stories, which the paper called “Above the Law.”

According to the report, Cabrera claimed a home he owns in Westchester County as his “primary residence” on tax forms, a move that scored him a $1,513 tax break. Although Cabrera himself would not comment about the finding, his office confirmed its accuracy.

Cabrera’s camp said the listing of the Westchester property was an “honest oversight” and that Cabrera did not know the tax relief credit would be automatically renewed each year. The councilman is in the process of paying the money back and does, indeed, live in his Bronx district, as required by law, his office said.

Cabrera’s residency was a hot-button issue in 2009 when he ran for City Council against then-incumbent Maria Baez, and his opponents sought to portray him as an outsider. He moved into his Bronx home, on Sedgwick Avenue near 197th Street, in July 2008, a few months before he announced his intentions to run for Baez’ seat.
Rivera was mentioned in the News series for “not paying enough taxes” with the state, the paper alleged, despite the fact that he runs a tax preparation service on the side.

“It was $128 that was owed personally and was subsequently paid,” the councilman said in an e-mail. “It was resolved relatively quickly. Some people get refunds, some people owe. I owed and I paid.”

Koppell was featured along a blurb saying he owes $165,000 on three credit cards while, professionally, he’s rallied to pass laws that crack down on credit card companies. The councilman denounced the article as unfairly equating his finances to more serious wrongdoing (another representative featured in the story owes $100,000 in property taxes, while yet another has two outstanding arrest warrants).

“It’s totally unfair to lump me together with people who, at least it would appear, have done something improper or even illegal when I did nothing improper or illegal,” Koppell said, explaining that he took advantage of several low- or zero-interest rate credit card offers to finance his law practice.

Dick Dadey, of the public watchdog group Citizens Union, said that while some items featured in the stories may have been minor, the paper was making a bigger point.

“I think the Daily News was trying to give a sense of the depth of the problem that council members are having with complying with the law,” he said.

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