Saying that his legal issues have become a distraction as officials grapple with a fiscal crisis, three City Council members have asked Democratic Councilman Mike Fagen to temporarily step aside. Fagen was indicted last week on charges that he illegally collected more than $14,000 in unemployment benefits.
While emphasizing that he is innocent until proven guilty — and stopping short of calling for his resignation — Fagen’s fellow Democrats on the council, including President Fran Adelson, Vice President Len Torres and Scott Mandel, encouraged Fagen to focus on his personal life and take a leave of absence as the city deals with an unprecedented financial mess.
“We have formally asked for Fagen to step aside, and of course he didn’t want to do that,” Torres said. “… We feel he needs to have time to get his house in order … it’s a lot for him and we feel for him.”
But Fagen’s attorney, Marc Gann, said that he has advised his client to stay put. “I don’t think he’s guilty of anything,” Gann said, “and our Constitution is based on the concept of the presumption of innocence.”
The Nassau County district attorney’s office announced last week that a grand jury had charged Fagen, 55, with 38 counts of first-degree offering of a false instrument for filing, one count of third-degree grand larceny and one count of petit larceny. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. An arraignment has not yet been scheduled.
District Attorney Kathleen Rice said that Fagen concealed his employment as an elected city official from the New York State Department of Labor, and that he received $405 per week in unemployment insurance benefits beginning in September 2009.
Rice also said that Fagen failed to disclose to the Labor Department his government employment as well as his work as a salesman for a hotel membership benefits company, and continued to receive “undeserved” unemployment benefits. After his swearing-in, he falsely certified to the Labor Department every week that he was unemployed, she added.