With testimony from Dov Hikind’s own former chief of staff, prosecutors this week sought to fortify their claim that the assemblyman used government funds from Brooklyn’s largest Jewish community council as a kind of private cash reserve for political and personal needs.
Jeff Reznik, Hikind’s chief of staff between 1993 and 1995, testified Monday that Hikind helped him get a job with an affiliate of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Boro Park after he told Hikind his staff salary of about $30,000 per year was insufficient.
The new job involved conducting a survey of community needs in Borough Park funded in part with state funds Hikind had personally helped secure for the COJO affiliate.
But Reznik, who received about $9,000 for some 50 interviews he said he conducted for the survey, was unable to offer any clear documentation of the work. Reznik told prosecutors he threw away all his notes from the interviews after typing them up. Neither the prosecution nor the defense asked him for the typed notes. Meanwhile, Reznik said he turned his only copy of the report he wrote up on the interviews to Rabbi Elimelech Naiman, a top COJO official and Hikind’s codefendant in the federal corruption in Brooklyn.
In the trial, now finishing its fifth week, Hikind and Rabbi Naiman are charged with conspiracy, fraud and embezzlement. If found guilty, they could face up to 10 years in prison.
Reznik, who now works for State Comptroller Carl McCall, was the fourth Hikind staffer to testify that Hikind found him work with COJO or its affiliates to supplement his salary from Hikind. As in other cases, the jobs were funded at least in part with government money Hikind helped COJO secure.
Reznik said that at his request, his COJO salary was paid out to his wife under her maiden name, Jodi Tenzer, rather than to him “to avoid interoffice gossip and busybodyness” among his coworkers at Hikind’s office. Reznik noted he had declared this income on his taxes and made no other effort to hide it.
The former Hikind staffer, who testified only reluctantly and under a grant of immunity, frequently told prosecutors he could not remember important details of his work with Hikind and COJO. In several cases, however, prosecutors presented earlier grand jury testimony in which Reznik had, in fact, been able to recall these points.
Reznik also testified about a voter registration drive that COJO funded, which the defense has argued was a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort for the community.
The drive, which employed several members of Hikind’s staff, was conducted from an office just down the hall from Hikind’s own district office, according to Reznik.
Asked if the United Jewish Coalition, a partisan political action committee Hikind founded, was also involved in the drive, Reznik replied, “To me, they meshed, UJC and some of the other organizations … COJO, UJC and Dov just meshed in my mind.”
Reznik also testified that Hikind secured much of the so-called “member-item” money that he channeled to COJO through a secret arrangement with then state Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino (R-Muttontown).
“He told me I shouldn’t mention it … so the Democrats wouldn’t know about it … because he got the money from the other side,” said Reznik.
There was no testimony as to what, if anything, Marino got in return.
Under cross-examination by Rabbi Naiman’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, Reznik testified that UJC, on which Reznik served as treasurer, did not endorse candidates at Hikind’s orders, but solicited its 100 members before deciding who to back.
Brafman also introduced booklets COJO had published based on community surveys done before the one Reznik said he conducted. But Brafman’s effort to introduce a 1994 booklet that he said was based on Reznik’s work was frustrated when he lost the copy he said he received from the prosecution, and the prosecution said it could not find its own.