Complaint Seeks Fines and Damages for Illegal Government Mailing during Campaign, Requests Investigation into NYC Affordable Housing Scam
Dan Branda, the Republican candidate for Westchester County Legislator, District 4, today filed a 16-page complaint with the Westchester County Board of Ethics against Legislator Vedat Gashi, the chair of the Board of Legislators.
As detailed last week in the Journal News, Gashi illegally sent a franked government newsletter to voters in the upcoming election–including voters who do not reside in the current district but are eligible to vote in the upcoming election due to redistricting–and allowed other legislators in competitive elections to do the same. Branda is seeking the Board of Ethics to find Gashi liable for civil damages up to $10,000 per violation as well as reimbursement to county taxpayers for the printing, postage, and labor to produce the illegal newsletter. Branda is also asking the Board of Ethics to treat each recipient of the illegal newsletter as a violation.
“Both the County Code of Ethics and the Laws of Westchester County strictly forbid the government-endorsed campaign mailings that Vedat Gashi authorized at substantial taxpayer expense to help his candidacy,” Branda said. “By using the official seal and branding of the Board of Legislators to legitimize campaign claims, Gashi has stolen government property to prop up his failing candidacy. What Gashi has taken from taxpayers is invaluable, and cannot be ignored.”
Under the county’s Code of Ethics, elected officials are forbidden from using county resources for personal material benefit, including for political campaigns. Under the codified Laws of Westchester County, Chapter 960, Rule Twenty-Seven, legislators are specifically forbidden from mailing newsletters after they submit designating petitions to be candidates. Gashi filed his designating petition for re-election in April 2023. The newsletter in question was received by voters–including voters eligible under redistricting who are not currently constituents of Legislator Gashi–beginning September 11, 2023.
To solidify Gashi’s intent to use the government newsletters to support his campaign, the newsletter was not sent to Gashi’s current constituents if they are ineligible or unlikely to vote in the upcoming election.
Branda also alleges that the newsletter contains clear campaign language and assertions that are not present in previous newsletters–including reference to “hard-working taxpayers” and a false assertion that Gashi cut property taxes in four consecutive years. The Board of Legislators raised property taxes by $13.5 million in 2023.
The complaint details the county’s efforts to conceal the target audience and the cost of Gashi’s newsletters by denying or delaying access to records under Freedom of Information law (FOIL), making it more necessary for the Board of Ethics to conduct an independent investigation with subpoena power. On Tuesday, County Attorney John Nonna determined that the recipient list for Gashi’s newsletter derived from the Board of Elections–which will reveal to what extent it was mailed for political purposes–is not available for public disclosure despite the common and frequent disclosure of the same information in the form of a raw voter list.
Branda Seeks Ethics Investigation into Gashi’s Affordable Housing, Finances, and Political Use of County Staff
Branda includes three additional ethics complaints related to the political use of county resources and Gashi’s failure to accurately disclose his finances. By association, Branda is asking the Board of Ethics to weigh in on Gashi’s ownership of a 4-bedroom affordable housing apartment in New York City, one block away from Central Park West.
“We know that Gashi broke the law and ethics requirements with these newsletters and that action merits an Ethics investigation to recoup taxpayer money,” Branda said. “Because Gashi’s actions already warrant an investigation by the Board of Ethics, I am asking them to also take a good hard look where they can, based on a pattern of facts that raise the possibilities of further illegalities on Gashi’s part–including accusations surrounding his New York City affordable housing scam. An investigation is the only means to bring sunlight to the affordable housing scam, compelling Gashi to produce the evidence he claims excuses him from the requirements placed on every other resident in affordable housing throughout New York State–including residents of Westchester’s affordable housing program overseen by the Board of Legislators.”
Branda added, “The Board of Legislators has failed to meet its obligation and investigate the revelations about Gashi’s affordable housing co-op and its implications for his eligibility to hold office in Westchester County. We know that Gashi owns the affordable housing unit in New York City that requires him to reside there, not here. We know that he claims to have rented the apartment under special permission from the Co-Op Board–of which he is the Secretary. And we know that his annual financial disclosure forms fail to support his claim of using the affordable housing co-op as part of his real estate portfolio. The question is–and it's a question for the Board of Ethics to investigate in the absence of a Board of Legislators investigation–did Gashi fail to properly disclose his rental income on his annual disclosure forms? Or, did he fail to rent out his co-op where he is required by New York City to maintain his primary residence? Because he did take advantage of New York City’s affordable housing program to buy a $2 million apartment for a fraction of the cost and he receives a substantial property tax break under the program, is Gashi guilty of unjust enrichment for turning that affordable housing unit into an income stream?”
According to Gashi’s 2022 Financial Disclosure form for Calendar Year 2021, filed in January 2023, Gashi did not receive rental income from the affordable housing apartment. Gashi ran for re-election in Westchester in 2021.
The accusations by Branda include revelations that millions of dollars in Real Estate are connected by address to Gashi’s law offices but not reported on his annual financial disclosure statements, and that Gashi has used county staff to run campaign errands during normal business hours.
Branda said, “Gashi’s legislative staff, during business hours, filed handwritten and timestamped Freedom of Information requests with the Board of Elections for my designating petitions. That is a documented fact and a clear violation of the Code of Ethics because it only serves his campaign interests. Legislative staff, during business hours, were also seen in proximity to campaign activities connected to Gashi’s legal efforts to have my candidacy invalidated. I am asking the Board of Ethics to investigate to what extent Legislator Gashi is using his taxpayer-funded staff to conduct campaign activities, and what other government resources are being authorized for use by Gashi in his role as Chair of the Board.”
Branda Alleges Gashi Should Have Recused Himself During Christopher Johnson Votes
Finally, Branda is charging Gashi for failure to recuse himself during the investigation into Christopher Johnson’s affordable housing scam–an investigation into materially similar facts as Gashi’s ownership of the New York City co-op. Johnson was stripped of his leadership position and Gashi initiated an outside investigation that compelled Johnson to resign his elected office.
The County Code of Ethics, Branda says, required Gashi to recuse himself from the actions he took and the discussions leading to those actions.
“In light of Gashi’s own ownership of an affordable housing unit that raises questions about his eligibility to hold office in Westchester, he never should have participated in the Christopher Johnson investigation–much less allowed it to close upon Johnson’s resignation. That investigation set precedence and policy that now applies to Gashi–and he alone should have foreseen that,” Branda said.
Branda Calls on BOL to Speak Out on Affordable Housing Scam
With the notable exception of Legislator Damon Maher, who called for a BOL investigation, each and every legislator, in all three parties, has failed to comment on revelations that their Chairman owns an affordable housing unit in New York City that requires his primary residency–thereby making him ineligible for office in Westchester.
The revelations of Gashi’s affordable housing scam, published in the Journal News on September 1, 2023, came exactly one month after the resignation of Legislator Christopher Johnson for being contractually obligated to reside outside his legislative district.
“The Democratic caucus voted to strip Christopher Johnson of his leadership and launched an investigation that led to his resignation–for materially the same scam that Vedat Gashi is now caught in,” Branda said. “I’m calling on the Legislators to justify their silence: What is the difference between Christopher Johnson and Vedat Gashi? Why did one warrant sanctions and an investigation, and the other does not? We have a Democratic Party here in Westchester that is very publicly generating outrage over national corruption scandals and demanding accountability from Republican representatives. But when there’s a scandal involving fraud right here in Westchester involving one of their own, the Democrats are silent. Pay no attention to the Party Bosses behind the curtain.”