City Councilman Mike Fagen appeared in Nassau County Criminal Court on Wednesday at the start of his fraud trial, nearly a year after he was indicted on charges that he illegally collected more than $14,000 in unemployment benefits.
A jury consisting of 10 women and four men was selected on Tuesday, a day before prosecutors made their opening statements in front of Judge Meryl Berkowitz. Nassau County Assistant District Attorney William Jorgenson began the trial by focusing on Fagen’s alleged “numerous acts of deceit and thievery.”
“Unemployment is created to help people,” said Jorgenson. “All they ask in return is that you be honest.”
Following a grand jury indictment in February last year, Fagen pleaded not guilty to charges of 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.
The trial was initially slated to begin in September, and comes several months after prosecutors and Fagen’s attorney failed to reach a settlement, at the request of Justice William Donnino, that included Fagen possibly pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge in order to avoid a trial.
Prosecutors said that Fagen, who maintains his innocence, failed to report on his unemployment claims his yearly income of $19,200 as an elected city official from the New York State Department of Labor, and that he received $405 per week in unemployment insurance benefits — prosecutors revised the total amount in question to $15,000 — after he took office.
Prosecutors also said that Fagen, a Democrat who was elected to the council in November 2009, failed to disclose to the Labor Department in September 2010 his work as a consultant for a hotel membership benefits company, Willow Advisors, and continued to receive “undeserved” unemployment benefits. After he was sworn in to office in January 2010, he falsely certified to the Labor Department every week that he was unemployed, they said.