NY candidate once accused of fraud by Keith Hernandez' ex
By KAREN MATTHEWS
Sep. 07, 2018
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York state Senate candidate seeking to join a wave of progressive challengers toppling incumbents was accused in 2011 of trying to fraudulently access a bank account belonging to the estranged wife of baseball great Keith Hernandez.
Julia Salazar, who is challenging state Sen. Martin Dilan of Brooklyn in next week's Democratic primary, was arrested but never prosecuted in the case involving Kai Hernandez, who at the time was divorcing the baseball star.
Salazar later sued Kai Hernandez for defamation, saying she framed her because she falsely believed that she was having an affair with her husband.
Salazar's attorney, Adam Hecht, said the lawsuit was settled last March when Hernandez agreed to pay Salazar $20,000.
In a statement posted on her website Thursday, Salazar said the theft allegations were baseless, and that her arrest by police in Florida was "one of the most frightening things that had ever happened to me."
"I learned how easily the legal system could be used by the wealthy and powerful to punish someone who had never committed a crime," she said.
Hernandez's attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
News of the arrest resulted in another day of turmoil for a campaign that has been roiled in recent weeks by questions about whether Salazar embellished details of her biography.
Salazar refused to stop to speak with reporters who followed her out of New York's City Hall. She shook her head "no" when asked if she had had a relationship with Keith Hernandez, a family friend when she was young.
The arrest and lawsuit date back to an episode in 2010, when Salazar, then a 19-year-old student at Columbia University, was housesitting for Kai Hernandez in Tequesta, Florida.
According to the police report, Kai Hernandez told investigators she received a phone call from her financial adviser at UBS informing her that a caller had repeatedly tried to access her account. The caller claimed to be Hernandez and said she had been unable to log in to her account because of the security questions.
Hernandez listened to the recordings and identified Salazar as the caller. "Julia identified herself as me and rattled off my personal information without any hesitation," Hernandez said in her sworn statement to the police.
Salazar was arrested several months later when she was back in Florida on a break from Columbia.
The now-retired detective who arrested Salazar, Charles Weinblatt, told the magazine Tablet that he believed the voice on the recordings was Salazar's. He said the charges were likely dropped because a voice ID was not deemed sufficient to prosecute.
In her statement, Salazar said Kai Hernandez had made the calls herself in an attempt to set her up.
"Thankfully, the District Attorney quickly recognized that these accusations were baseless, and no charges were ever filed against me," Salazar said.
She said she was "forced to spend my recently deceased father's life insurance money on hiring a lawyer to clear my name and expunge the arrest record."
A forensic analysis of the recordings showed the person who made the calls was Kai Hernandez, she said.
Salazar sued in 2013. Kai Hernandez fought the lawsuit for several years before settling. Her lawyer, Lynne Ventry, told Tablet that "if Kai hadn't gotten ill, we could have tried this case and won this case."
Salazar, 27, had already come under scrutiny for discrepancies in her background before the report on her 2011 arrest surfaced.
Now a leftist, Salazar was a Republican who led an anti-abortion group while at Columbia.
Salazar has faced criticism over how she described her background in early interviews. In some of them, Salazar said she was an immigrant born in her father's native Colombia. She was actually born into a middle-class family in Florida.
She now says she "inadvertently misrepresented" her experience as the daughter of an immigrant.
Salazar is seeking to emulate the success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose earlier primary defeat of longtime Democratic congressman Joe Crowley energized progressives around the country. Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar, who are both members of the Democratic Socialists of America, have endorsed each other.
"Women in politics always face a double standard, and the extreme scrutiny of my personal life in this race has been a manifestation of that," Salazar said in her statement Thursday.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Hernandez lived in Tequesta, Florida.