Opening Statements Held at Councilman Fagen’s Trial

Nassau County Criminal Court in Mineola, where Long Beach City Councilman Mike Fagen is standing trial for stealing unemployment benefits. (Credit: Joe Kellard)
Nassau County Criminal Court in Mineola, where Long Beach City Councilman Mike Fagen is standing trial for stealing unemployment benefits. (Credit: Joe Kellard)
Opening statements in the trial of Long Beach City Councilman Michael Fagen began Tuesday, with the prosecution accusing him of stealing $15,000 in unemployment benefits and his attorney contending that his client is innocent and was set up by his political opponents.

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In Judge Mary Berkowitz’s court in Mineola, prosecutor William Jorgensen told the 14-person jury that Fagen illegally collected unemployment benefits from the state Department of Labor while he worked two jobs, one as a councilman and the other as a salesman for Willow Advisors, a start-up company.

Jorgensen said Fagen committed the crimes he was charged with in 2011 -- 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 -- between Jan. 1, 2010 and Sept. 19, 2010, during which time he collected unemployment benefits.  

“He knew that they were false,” Jorgenson said of Fagen’s unemployment filings.

He said that Fagen, who started his four-year term as councilman on Jan. 1, 2010, received $19,200 in yearly salary for his work on the council, and that he was paid approximately $5,000 a month from Willow, who paid him $400 on Sept. 10, 2010, for which he was charged with petit larceny.

Jorgensen argued that Fagen’s work as councilman is a 9-to-5 position, one in which activities such as attending community events such as parades is part of his work-time. He said Fagen collected $430 a week in unemployment benefits.

“He was a full-time employee,” argued Jorgensen, who is prosecuting the case with Marshall Trager. “ … He lied about his work status.”

He told the jury, which consists of 10 women and four men, that during the trial he would call a number of witnesses to piece together a “puzzle” of evidence demonstrating Fagen’s guilt, including supervisors from the Department of Labor, who in part will explain rules and regulations of filing unemployment claims and the definition of work.  

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But Fagen’s attorney, Marc Gann, maintained that his client is innocent of the charges and said that he will show that the case is politically motivated.

“This case is about a political vendetta,” said Gann in his opening statement. “... It comes down to intent.”

Gann characterized Fagen, a Democrat, as a “gnat” and “a Ross Perot” to the Republicans, who held the majority on the City Council prior to and after his election in November 2009.

“The powers that be in Long Beach were not happy he got elected,” Gann said, arguing that the councilman exposed “financial improprieties” in the city.  

Gann said that Fagen was set up, claiming that the prior administration “pushed on” him a diary in which he was asked to log his activities as councilman, including attending parades and even brief conversations with constituents outside of City Hall, as part of his work-time.

Gann argued that Fagen never earned more than $20,000 as a councilman, saying that each check he received was in the amount of $405, and that Fagen’s only responsibilities for which he is paid are to attend two council meetings each month.

Fagen didn’t start to work for Willow Advisors until after Sept. 12, 2010, when his unemployment had expired, Gann argued. Fagen, who previously worked in sports media, had lost his job in August 2009 and started to collect unemployment insurance prior to his work on the council, receiving $405 in weekly benefits.

Gann told the jurors that he didn’t expect the prosecutors to call either former City Manager Charles Theofan or former comptroller Sandra Clarson to testify as witnesses in the case. But he noted that Jeff Nogid, the sitting comptroller who replaced Clarson last year, will be called as a witness.

Tonto Hertzberg January 17, 2013 at 10:28 PM
In addition, is there a person reading this post that did not work off the books while on the dole? This is a bullshit waste of time.
Christopher January 19, 2013 at 07:20 AM
Beachguy correct. I heard some of the cross examination of the NYS umemployment worker. He stated that now after hearing MR. Fagen only gets paid once a month and not weekly, then he is not in violation of the law when the question asked did you earn mire than $405.00 weekly the answer is NO. Go to the Court the trial is interesting and Theofan and the Soffields are no saints in the matter. The jury is still out on the entire Republican administration. Patch commentators are quick to say someone is guilty without knowing FACTS. Un real. So I guess if the Jury returns a Not Guilty verdict the court of Patch Commentors he is Guilty. Sorry does not count.
Jack January 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM
This is not a reublican vs democrat trial. Stop confusing the facts. The DA is a democrat! Either he took the money or he didn't. His background is a mystery. No one knows much about him. Where is he originally from??? Why does he have so many odd jobs for short periods of time? What did the democrats expect from his appointment to the city council? Were they expecting acess from his pumped up fictional jobs?
Beachguy January 20, 2013 at 09:20 AM
Fagen does odd jobs? For short periods of time? Just how does one get access from pumped up fictional jobs? Just what are you talking about Jack? Are you having some of those moments when the words simply don't fit together properly? When it's hard to make sense? Try slowing down and getting a grip on yourself. It will all work out.
Christopher January 24, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Jack no one is confusing anyone except you. The question when you file for unemployment you are asked did you earn more than $405.00 im the week ending. Fagen case comes down to when he was actually working and not working.. according tobthe city payroll as a councilmen it is part time. The pay once a month not weekly. Get the Facts before u past judgment. Kathleen Rice will prosecute anyone Republican, Democrat.


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