Brooklyn Paper: Full articles: Former Community Board chairman defends bogus pay-raises in court

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By Aidan Graham and Kevin Duggan

Brooklyn Paper

A former Gowanus community board manager testified in Brooklyn Supreme Court on June 11 that he believed he had permission to use his colleagues’ signatures to grant himself multiple pay-raises.

Craig Hammerman, the 27-year former district manager of Community Board 6, faces up to seven years behind bars after using the John Hancock of two former board chairmen in multiple letters to the city to secure salary bumps.

Hammerman took the stand before Supreme Court Justice Donald Leo to tell the jury that he had been authorized to use the signatures for community board business, as he did in four bogus letters to the city, between May 2015 and October 2017, which increased his salary from $105,180 to $121,931.

“I believed I had the authority to act on my own,” Hammerman told the jury. “I didn’t think I had to ask.”

One of the letters was purportedly signed by former-Chairman Gary Riley, who acknowledged to the jury on June 7 that he had given Hammerman a scan of his signature. He said he assumed that Hammerman would only use it for everyday business matters such as refilling office supplies or corresponding with liquor license applicants the board deals with on a regular basis.

“I thought it was implicit that it was for the sake of convenience,” Riley told prosecuting attorney Adam Libove.

Riley admitted that the two men never discussed formal limits on Hammerman’s use of the signature, but told the jury that he had been unaware of his involvement in salary decisions.

“I didn’t know that I had anything to do with raises at the time,” he said. “It never came up.”

Yet in May 2015, the Office of Management and Budget — the agency in charge of allocating the city’s funds — received a letter, which was supposedly signed by Riley, asking for a five percent increase in salary for Hammerman and two other board employees, according Eileen Galarneau, the city rep who approved the raise.

During trial testimony, Reilly said he had never heard about that letter, and that he neither wrote nor signed it.

Hammerman conceded that he did not get Riley’s express authorization for the letter, but said he felt that it was within his purview to use the signature to essentially grant himself a raise.

“It was tradition, custom, and practice of the board to pass along raises without explicit approval of the board,” he said.

Riley, an attorney, had served as the chair of the board — a quasi-governmental body of volunteers which covers Gowanus, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Columbia Waterfront, and Red Hook — for little more than a year in 2015 and stepped down the following year when he moved upstate, he told the court.

After his resignation, Riley was succeeded as chairman by Sayar Lonial, whose signature appears on three other pay-raise related documents, which Lonial also knew nothing about.

Members of the civic group discovered their manager’s scheme during an internal review, which eventually led to the District Attorney Eric Gonzalez launching a case against him in May 2018, this paper reported at the time.

The internal review came while Hammerman was on a six-month hiatus after he was arrested in 2017 on stalking charges, which officials later dropped.

The presiding judge barred prosecutors from questioning Hammeran about the stalking arrest at his trial testimony, during which he claimed that his pay-raise actions were meant to benefit the board’s two other paid employees — the assistant district manager and the office manager.

“I wanted to make sure that my staff members received it,” said Hammerman. “It was almost immaterial to me.”

But despite Hammerman’s stated uninterest in his personal salary increase, he stood to gain substantially.

The four total sham documents lead to a $16,751 annual salary bump, which also increased Hammerman’s city pension by almost $10,000 per year, an official with the city’s retirement system told the court.

Hammerman’s retirement benefits swelled from $60,499 to $70,134, which he is set to receive every year from the age of 62 until his death, according Bruce Farbstein of the city’s Employee Retirement System.

The district manager is one of the few paid positions on the board that is made up almost entirely by volunteers, including the chair.

During their various turns on the witness stand, Riley and Lonial seems to differ on whether Hammerman deserved the raise in the first place.

Lonial claimed told the court that, if asked, he would not have signed off on Hammerman’s raise request. By contrast, Riley said that he thought that Hammerman did a good job as district manager, something he put in writing on Hammerman’s LinkedIn page in 2011, where wrote that the board was lucky to have a manager with such longtime experience.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to the work of CB6 to have a District Manager of Craig’s caliber. We are lucky to have him,” Reilly wrote on the business-oriented social media site. “Craig possesses a wealth of institutional knowledge on the issues affecting our community, the history of our neighborhoods, and the paths to navigate in the City’s bureaucracy.”

By the end of his tenure, Hammerman was the third-highest paid district manager of all 18 community boards in the borough, surpassed only by Community Board 18’s Dottie Turano, who raked in a staggering $154,725 in 2017, and Community Board 1’s Gerald Esposito, who collected $126,882.

The average salary for managers across the five boroughs was $92,000 at the time, according to Galarneau.

The latter board recently came into hot water when it spent $26,000 to buy an SUV by using a $42,500 Council grant meant to boost the city’s 59 cash-strapped boards, The City reported.

Hammerman’s trial in ongoing. If convicted by the jury, Hammerman would face seven years in prison at sentencing for the pay-raise scheme.

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