Caribbean-Born Justice of NY State Supreme Court Convicted of Obstruction
NEW YORK, New York – Sylvia Ash, a Trinidad and Tobago-born justice of the New York State Supreme Court and former chair of the Board of Directors of Municipal Credit Union (MCU) in New York, faces a lengthy jail term after she was convicted on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making a false statement to a US federal agent.
“These charges arose from a scheme to impede the federal criminal investigation into fraud and corruption at MCU, a non-profit, multibillion-dollar financial institution, including misconduct committed by Kam Wong, the former chief executive officer (CEO), and Joseph Guagliardo, a former New York City Police Department Officer and member of MCU’s Supervisory Committee,” said Damian Williams, the Jamaican-American United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
He said Wong and Guagliardo were charged separately and previously pled guilty to embezzlement from MCU.
Williams said Ash, 64, who lives in Brooklyn and are of Grenadian and Vincentian parentage, was convicted after a two-week jury trial before US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 20, 2022.
“Today’s conviction demonstrates our resolve in uncovering criminal conduct at the highest levels of MCU and ensuring that those who attempt to thwart a federal investigation face consequences for that corrosive conduct,” Williams said.
“As the jury unanimously found, Sylvia Ash took repeated steps, over multiple months, to seek to obstruct the federal criminal investigation into financial misconduct at MCU that took place during Ash’s tenure as chair of the Board of Directors. Obstruction of justice, particularly by a sitting state court judge, is a serious crime, and Ash now faces punishment for her obstruction scheme,” he added.
According to documents presented before the court, MCU is a non-profit financial institution headquartered in New York, which is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
It is the oldest credit union in New York State and one of the oldest and largest in the country, providing banking services to more than 500,000 members, and with more than four billion US dollars in member accounts.
Williams said that, at all relevant times, MCU was overseen by a Board of Directors and a Supervisory Committee who were not supposed to be compensated.
“As a result of severe deficiencies in the Board’s and the Supervisory Committee’s oversight of the credit union, which came to light in connection with the federal investigation, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) removed the members of the Supervisory Committee in May 2018 and the Board in June 2018,” Williams said, adding subsequently, DFS appointed NCUA as the conservator for the credit union.
He said Ash is a sitting New York State Supreme Court Justice in Kings County (Brooklyn) and has served as a judge in the New York State court system since 2006, and in 2016 she was appointed as the presiding judge in the Kings County Supreme Court’s Commercial Division. After the charges in this case were unsealed, he said Ash was suspended from her position.
Williams said Ash served on MCU’s Board from in or about May 2008 until on or about August 15, 2016, when she resigned.
He said more than a year before her resignation, “Ash had been instructed to resign from MCU’s Board by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, which instruction she disregarded.”
From 2012 through 2016, while serving as an MCU Board member and while Wong was chief executive officer, Williams said “Ash received annually tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements and other benefits from MCU, including airfare, hotels, food and entertainment expenses for her and a guest to attend conferences both domestically and abroad, annual birthday parties at a minor league baseball stadium, payment for phone and cable bills, and electronic devices.
“Even after her resignation from the Board, Wong continued to provide or cause MCU to provide Ash with benefits, such as Apple devices and sports tickets. As a sitting state judge, Ash was required to report both her board service… and gifts and benefits she received from any outside sources on an annual state disclosure form.
“But between at least 2012 and 2018, Ash never reported her board service nor any gifts or benefits from MCU,” Williams said.
In January 2018, after Wong, MCU’s then-chief executive officer, had been approached by federal law enforcement agents investigating apparent financial misconduct by Wong, “in an attempt to protect Wong, Ash agreed to and did sign a false and misleading memorandum purporting to explain and justify millions of dollars Wong had received from MCU,” Williams said.
“Wong subsequently provided that false and misleading memorandum to federal agents in an attempt to demonstrate that the millions of dollars had purportedly been orally approved for him to receive by Ash in June 2015, when she was chair of the Board.
“However, in truth, neither Ash nor the Board had approved the payment of those funds.”
Williams said Ash was convicted of one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison; one count of obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; and one count of making false statements, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
On June 4, 2019, Wong was sentenced to 66 months in prison for embezzlement from MCU and was ordered to forfeit US$9,890,375 and to pay restitution in the same amount to MCU, Williams said.
On July 23, 2020, he said Guagliardo was sentenced to 27 months in prison for embezzlement from MCU and was ordered to forfeit US$425,514 and to pay US$468,189 in restitution to MCU.