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Former Municipal Credit Union chairman charged with obstruction

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The legal saga surrounding Municipal Credit Union in New York has expanded as a former board chairman faces federal charges.

Sylvia Ash, a judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., was charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and two counts of obstruction of justice in the Southern District of New York.

Kam Wong, the former president and CEO of the $3 billion-asset Municipal, in November 2018 pleaded guilty to embezzlement. Earlier this year he was sentenced to more than five years in prison, and the credit union was placed into conservatorship by state regulators in May.

Authorities allege Ash “agreed and attempted to obstruct” the federal criminal investigation into the fraud and embezzlement scheme perpetrated by Wong. In the complaint, Ash is accused of signing a “false and misleading” memorandum related to the “millions of dollars” Wong obtained from the credit union, destroying evidence, including wiping clean a smart phone, and making “false and misleading statements” to federal investigators.

Ash's attorney, Roger Archibald, said his client is innocent and will be exonerated from the allegations. He said she had no motivation to help Wong in his scheme.

“These are just allegations, and she is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Archibald said. “We expect her to be exonerated because she didn’t do anything wrong.”

Ash served on Municipal’s board from approximately May 2008 until she resigned on Aug. 15, 2016. She was chair of the board from May 2015 until her resignation.

According to court documents, the New York State Office of Court Administration noted Ash presided over or issued an order or opinion in “multiple cases” in which Municipal Credit Union was a party in both the Civil Court and the Supreme Court. Ash served as a Kings County Civil Court judge starting in 2006 before becoming a Kings County Supreme Court Justice in 2011. She was made a presiding judge in the Kings County Supreme Court’s commercial division in January 2016.

From at least 2012 through 2016, authorities said Ash received “tens of thousands of dollars” annually in reimbursements from Municipal for attending conferences domestically and abroad, payments for phone and cable bills and electronic devices. After Ash resigned from the board, she allegedly continued to receive Apple devices and money for conference travel.

Archibald, Ash’s attorney, said that it was appropriate for his client to be reimbursed for trips and conferences and all board members received this consideration.

All New York State judges are required to file annual financial disclosure forms, including all gifts in excess of $1,000 and any director positions held. The complaint alleges that Ash did not disclose any expenses or gifts received from Municipal from 2012 through 2018, nor did she disclose that she was serving as a director for the credit union.

In January 2018, Wong asked Ash to sign a memorandum that sought to document an alleged meeting in June 2015 in which Ash allegedly agreed to a $3.7 million payment to Wong to cancel a provision in Wong’s employment contract that provided Wong with long-term disability insurance coverage, according to prosecutors.

In March 2018, during an interview with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Ash acknowledged the January 2018 memorandum that she signed was “not an accurate reflection of her recollection” in regards to agreements to pay Wong for the disability coverage, according to prosecutors. Ash further acknowledged she did not have a conversation with Wong in June 2015 in which she agreed to a payout of $3.7 million.

After Ash was served with two different federal grand jury subpoenas requesting she produce correspondence, she allegedly visited an Apple store in June 2018 and had the contents of an Apple iPhone X – which she acknowledged was given to her by Wong after she no longer was a board member for Municipal – wiped clean, the complaint said.

On Oct. 11, the New York Court of Appeals voted to suspend Ash after the charges against her were unveiled, according to the New York Law Journal.

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