Russian-speaking deputy of the City Council of New York got into a scandal due to the misuse of work mail
Russian-speaking New York City Council member Inna Vernikov (Brooklyn, Republican) allegedly used her work email to solicit clients for a self-defense company with which she has long-standing ties. This is evidenced by the official records, which were analyzed by the journalists of the publication. New York Daily News.
In the letters, Vernikov promoted the non-profit company Legion Alpha Inc. This drew a sharp rebuke from Richard Briffo, former chairman of the Board on Conflicts of Interest. He said her use of her business email to promote the company violated local government ethics laws.
“This is a clear violation of the rules,” Briffo said. And he pointed to a section of the city charter that forbids the use of “public resources for financial gain by a firm with which a council member is associated.”
Advertisement for Legion Alpha Inc. from the side of Vernikov was framed in the form of an e-mail. She sent it on Jan. 30 from her work email to voters in her district, which covers parts of south Brooklyn, including Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.
In the letter, Vernikov wrote that she was "collaborating" with Legion Alpha to teach Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art, at a local synagogue.
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There was also a poster advertising four months of bi-weekly classes for 30 people at $300 per person. The message also included a link where people could sign up for the paid program.
"Limited number of seats. And this month there are only a few free ones,” Vernikov wrote.
Inconsistencies in the biography
Also in the letter, the politician wrote that she worked as the “chairman of the executive board” of Legion Alpha. In her biographies, posted on the City Council website, says that she still fulfills this role.
Corey Feldman, president of Legion Alpha, said Vernikov is "remaining very involved" with the company's Brooklyn branch.
“We are very grateful to her for filling this class,” he said. And he noted that thanks to her, Legion filled all 30 places on the course.
A few hours after these comments, Feldman called back and said that Vernikov was no longer “officially involved” in the work of his company.
“But she helps me a lot with the Brooklyn chapter,” he added.
Despite a biography on the City Council website, Vernikova has stated that she is not on the Legion's executive board.
She also said that she did not receive any "financial benefit" from the group.
“I worked pro bono… And I continue to strongly support their cause,” Vernikov said.
Briffo said that Vernikov most likely violated the ethics law, even if she is not currently officially affiliated with the Legion. The fact is that the rules prohibit government employees from using “any city resources for any non-state purposes.”
“Thus, personal gain for a board member is not a prerequisite for such an action to be considered a violation,” Briffo explained.
Conflicts of Interest Board executive director Carolyn Miller, whose job it is to enforce the city's ethics laws, declined to comment.
One more problem
Vernikov may also face an ethical headache over the recent allocation of discretionary funds to another group she is associated with.
Last year, Vernikov donated $10 to a group called Americans Against Anti-Semitism from the Council's reserve fund. Council members may use this fund to fund non-profit initiatives in their districts. But in the case of Vernikov, the question of her personal connection to the organization again arises.
Vernikov served as vice president of Americans Against Anti-Semitism in December 2021, according to tax records. The founder of this group is former State Assemblyman Dov Hykind, who was an active supporter of the Wernicks.
Vernikov's biography page on the City Council website indicates that she is still on the board of Americans Against Anti-Semitism. But her annual financial statement indicates that she stepped down from that position "shortly after" she was sworn in as a City Council member in January 2022.
Both Vernikov and Haykind said last week that she has played no role in Americans Against Anti-Semitism since early 2022.
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Under New York City Council rules, council members are prohibited from distributing funds of their own choosing to organizations where they serve as employees or board members, whether or not they receive a salary. In addition, Board members may not be given discretionary funds by an organization that employs a family member or business associate.
The rules also require New York City Council members and organizations that benefit from discretionary funds to disclose “any potential conflicts of interest” prior to disbursing funds.
Neither Vernikov nor Haikind said whether they made such a statement when providing funds to Americans Against Anti-Semitism. But they both said there was "no conflict of interest" in the allocation of money.
Born in Ukraine, Vernikov moved to the US at a young age and is now building a political career. You can read more about her here.