Last week’s sentencing of former New York State Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa for marriage and bankruptcy fraud was a final chapter in a short political career. But Rosa’s sentence – a year in prison, three years of probation and repayment of $20,000 owed to creditors – has not ended the scandal’s fallout among uptown politicians and the largely Dominican constituency in Washington Heights and Inwood that Rosa represented.
Rosa, 47, resigned from the state legislature in June after she pleaded guilty of paying $8,000 to enter a sham marriage to gain legal status in the U.S. in 1996. She was also convicted of failing to disclose all sources of income and assets in a 2009 bankruptcy filing.
In her mainly Dominican neighborhood in Inwood, some of Rosa’s neighbors remained sympathetic despite her conviction. “Lady is good for me. Other people support her,” said Lucy Beña, a retired woman, who was packing up her clothes stand at a flea market on Fort George Avenue one recent Sunday.
“Gabriela didn’t make anything wrong,” said Magaly Paulino, who said she styles Rosa’s hair at M & M Beauty Salon on 191st Street and St. Nicholas Ave. “She resigned because she was very nervous. She was helping get people higher salaries. She helped the community with education. The best Assemblyperson!”
But others thought that she needed to pay the consequences especially being an elected official. “She is looked upon as power. She’s showing an example,” said Denise Guzman. Rosa had requested leniency from the court because she has a 16-year-old son, but Guzman said, “I have a son myself. It’s a tough one if she deserves deportation, but it’s right – paying for what you did.”
Karen Seiden, an immigration lawyer who works in Inwood, said that while many Dominicans may have sympathy for her, “if it’s a public figure like in this case, it’s different than just a regular Joe Schmo. You have public trust.”
Among city politicians, reaction since Rosa’s June conviction and resignation from the Assembly has been mostly subdued.
Back in June, Mayor de Blasio said that he was surprised to learn about Rosa’s charges to the Observer, adding, “I can’t comment until I hear more about it.” Since the court day, no official word has come from the mayor.
Rosa’s close allies from the Democratic Party during her 2012 election campaign, State Senator Adriano Espaillat and City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, both Dominican, expressed their “dismay” to the Observer. Rodriguez’s office declined to comment on her sentencing, and Espaillat could not be reached. Even though they came to court, neither said anything officially.
In contrast with the near-silence from Dominican politicians, State Senator Rubén Díaz, a Puerto Rican who represents a Bronx district, posted a long, sympathetic statement in June, The Tragedy of Gabriela Rosa – and Many Others. Díaz’s statement did not address her conviction for bankruptcy fraud, instead focusing on her effort to gain legal status through a sham marriage.
“This pursuit of the American Dream has been the downfall of Gabriela, a tragedy for New York Hispanics, and a great loss of a good public servant for our community. I was very fond of Gabriela and I assure you that her leadership will be missed,” wrote Diaz. While noting that he didn’t condone illegal action, he said that if the U.S. “goes after those who commit the same act as Gabriela, I am afraid New York will be an empty town.”
In a recent interview with Global City NYC, Herman “Danny” Farrell Jr., New York State Assemblyman for neighboring District 71 in Harlem, also praised Rosa, saying “she worked very hard helping people. Anything she didn’t know, she learned. She was good with walk-ins, Latinos,” at the time when Rosa worked in his office. On the day of her sentencing, Rosa wept on Farrell’s shoulder outside of the courtroom.
Díaz and Farrell, as well as Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assemblymember for Bronx District 73 Dan Quart, had written character letters to Judge Denise Cote asking for leniency based on her work as an elected official. But U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote in his memorandum that giving her a favorable consideration “because she did not abuse her elected office for personal financial gain,” sets “a discouragingly low bar.”
Rosa is scheduled to go to prison on November 14. Judge Denise Cote denied Rosa’s request to start her sentence after year-end holidays. Sources close to the case said that she wasn’t subject to deportation.
In a text message responding to a Global City NYC reporter before her court appearance, Gabriela Rosa declined an interview request. “I am not allowed to talk to the press until after my sentencing date,” she wrote.
Three days after her day in court, Rosa sat on a bench inside M & M Beauty Salon, where she stopped on her way from a shopping trip. A steady stream of well-wishers from the Inwood neighborhood stopped to give Rosa a hug and offer words of sympathy in Spanish. One older woman sat beside Rosa, quietly crying.