NY state sues former head of abortion group over lavish spending

Reuters News

6/29/2012 7:15:30 PM - Reuters News

By Karen Freifeld

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York state Attorney General's office is suing the former head of the New York chapter of the nation's largest abortion-rights advocacy group, accusing her of using more than $250,000 in charitable funds to finance a lavish lifestyle.

The lawsuit, filed in New York state Supreme Court on Thursday, came a year after Kelli Conlin pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney.

She resigned as president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York in January 2011.

Conlin spent some $50,000 at such upscale department stores as Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York, $17,000 on a five-bedroom Hamptons rental and more than $70,000 in car services - all of it paid for with money from NARAL and its charitable foundation, according to the lawsuit.

She also used charity money to pay more than $12,000 of her nanny's salary, and spent more than $50,000 from the group's funds on personal meals, including more than 120 meals from a sushi restaurant near her Brooklyn home, the lawsuit said.

NARAL said in a statement that it applauded the attorney general's decision to bring the case, adding that the group had implemented reforms and financial controls after Conlin left.

Conlin was president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York and its charitable arm for 19 years. She pleaded guilty in June 2011 to a felony charge of falsifying business records and paid restitution of $75,000.

New York state's separate investigation "uncovered substantial additional wrongdoing and seeks to hold Conlin fully accountable for her misconduct," state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office said in a press release.

Lawyer Robert Anello, who represented Conlin in the criminal case, said it appeared "patently unfair and an abuse of the attorney general's powers to revisit the same ground thoroughly examined by the district attorney's office."

Conlin earned $380,000 in 2010 in compensation from her NARAL post.

The lawsuit accuses Conlin of breach of fiduciary duties. It seeks to hold her liable for waste and misappropriation of the foundation's charitable assets.

Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who prosecuted the criminal case, said Vance was "pleased" the attorney general was seeking the return of additional funds using its civil powers.

Schneiderman recused himself from the case because his now-deceased father was involved with the organization, according to his office.

The case is People of the State of New York v Kelli Conlin, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 45107/2012.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)