Attorney Michael M. Freeman has resigned as chairman of the Nassau Community College board of trustees after he and six others were indicted in federal court in a bribery and kickback scheme involving affordable housing contracts in New York City, officials said.
Freeman, 64, a real estate attorney from Manhasset, was appointed a member of the Nassau Community College board Feb. 18, 2009, by then-Gov. David A. Paterson. Named chairman last year, Freeman's term was to end in 2015.
"Mike Freeman has served on the NCC board of trustees with passion and with dedication to the college and the students," said John R. Durso, board of trustees vice chair, Friday, "but I understand and agree with his decision to resign from the board."
Freeman and another Long Island attorney, Lee Hymowitz, 60, of Oceanside, were among the seven men charged Thursday in Brooklyn federal court with bribing officials to get contracts to develop affordable housing in the city, and then demanding kickbacks from contractors. Freeman and the others, including several real estate developers, and Wendell Walters, the assistant commissioner of NYC's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, were charged with 26 counts of racketeering conspiracy, bribery, extortion, wire fraud and money laundering.
According to the indictment, the scheme netted Freeman and others $1 million to $2 million over the past 10 years. Freeman and the other defendants pleaded not guilty Thursday at an arraignment in Brooklyn and were released. Freeman's attorney, Gerald J. Di Chiara, did not return calls to his office Friday.
A spokesman for the college in Garden City said Freeman resigned Thursday without making a statement or elaborating on the case against him.
"It absolutely took all of us by surprise," said college spokesman Reggie Tuggle. "We don't know what we're going to do yet, this is all happening as we speak. The board is going to meet next week and determine what to do."
According to the college, Freeman has been a litigator since 1972, specializing in matrimonial, commercial and real estate cases. He was previously law secretary to Justice Julian S. Greenspan of the Supreme Court of Kings County and a senior trial attorney for the Legal Aid Society of the City of New York.
Freeman also served as a member of the Nassau County Board of Assessors and an instructor in the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. He has volunteered for the American Cancer Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Society and the Manhasset Student Aid Society, according to the college.
"He's a hardworking guy, sincere in what he does, and puts in a lot of time in a nonpaying function, so we're surprised," said board member Anthony Cornachio, who is also a practicing attorney. "We don't know anything about the underlying facts of this case. We hope the allegations aren't true, and we wish him well."Board members are not compensated for their work, Cornachio said, and are motivated by the desire to "do good for the community from once you came." Four are appointed by the governor, four by the Nassau County Legislature, and a ninth student member is elected by the student body.