A former longtime Brooklyn civic leader was found not guilty in Brooklyn Supreme Court on June 14 of using bogus documents to give himself multiple pay-raises from the city, which totaling more than $16,000 annually.
Craig Hammerman, the former longtime District Manager of Community Board 6 — which stretches from Park Slope to Red Hook — was facing seven years behind bars for using two colleagues’ signatures to grant himself four salary bumps over a three-year stretch.
The jury accepted Hammerman’s defense that, because he had been authorized to use the signature for community board business, he was allowed to use them in four raise-requests to the city, between May 2015 and October 2017, to increase his salary from $105,180 to $121,931.
“I believed I had the authority to act on my own,” Hammerman told the jury on June 11. “I didn’t think I had to ask.”
Brooklyn’s top prosecutor disagreed, slapping Hammerman with 17 charges — including forgery — in May 2018, arguing that the raises were illegal.
“This defendant allegedly sought to enrich himself with taxpayer money to which he was not entitled,” District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said at the time. “This was a betrayal of the public trust that cannot be tolerated.”
The board’s former chairman told the jury on June 7 that he had given Hammerman a scan of his signature — which Hammerman used to request a raise in a 2015 letter to the Office of Management and Budget — but he never meant it to be used for pay raises.
“I thought it was implicit that it was for the sake of convenience,” said Gary Reilly. “I didn’t know that I had anything to do with raises at the time.”
Hammerman, along with defense attorney Joyce David, argued that there were no established formal limits on his use of the signatures, and he was under no obligation to inform Reilly — or Sayar Lonial, whose John Handcock appeared on the three other documents in question — of the letters.
“It was tradition, custom, and practice of the board to pass along raises without explicit approval of the board,” he said.
The raises represented a $16,751 annual increase, and also increased Hammerman’s city pension by almost $10,000 per year — from $60,499 to $70,134 — which he is set to receive annually from age 62 until his death, according Bruce Farbstein of the city’s Employee Retirement System.
After the trial, Hammerman lamented the idea that money played into his decision, arguing that it was his 27 years of public service that motivated him.
“I was never in it for the money,” he said. “My record bores that out.”
Hammeram — who watched in court as Lonial suggested that he would not have granted the raises if he was asked — suggested that Lonial’s testimony was more politically motivated than he had let on.
“I don’t think it was about the work performance,” he said. “That was simply used as a mask or a cover.”
Hammerman attributed the ordeal up the toxic working relationship that he saw develop during the tail-end of his community board tenure.
“I think there was a breakdown in communication. We ceased to talk to each other as a human being with kindness and respect,” he said. “I think if people learned how to interact in a more collegial way would, that would have created a different working relationship.”
The jury found Hammerman not guilty on all 17 counts, allowing him to avoid a possible seven year prison sentence.