Four men with the power to make things happen for New Cassel's $80-million redevelopment - two former Nassau County legislators, a former Town of North Hempstead building official and the current head of the agency overseeing the revitalization - are accused in a scheme that steered parts of the project to a developer in return for bribes and other payments totaling $400,000.
Former legislators Roger Corbin and Patrick Williams, who yesterday faced charges including conspiracy and grand larceny, took advantage of their positions, used insider information to ensure their chosen developer would be selected as a builder, and through their alleged schemes enriched themselves, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.
"It was their greed that destroyed a community vision for a better future," she said. While new developers have come in to push the project forward, residents still are waiting for that "bright, beautiful future to arrive."
Corbin and Williams, along with Neville Mullings, director of North Hempstead's Community Development Agency, and David Wasserman, the town's former building and planning commissioner, surrendered to investigators at about 7:20 a.m. and later pleaded not guilty. They were released without bail and declined to comment after walking out of court.
The four eased the way through the bid process for Ranjan Batheja, former co-owner of Stoneridge Homes, Rice said - so much so, that other developers "didn't stand a chance." In exchange, she said, Corbin, Williams and Mullings received kickbacks from Batheja, who was charged in February with grand larceny and bribery in connection with the New Cassel project.
Reached by phone, Corbin said he was innocent and accused Rice of using him for political gain.
Corbin demanded monthly payments from Batheja totaling more than $200,000 over three years in exchange for his political influence.
Williams purported to have exclusive negotiating rights with a bank where he worked as a consultant, which he tried to sell to a developer for $200,000. That developer, who prosecutors are not naming, turned down the offer. Batheja agreed to pay Williams, 62, of Uniondale, $180,000 for those fictitious rights to partner with the bank, prosecutors said.
Wasserman, Mullings and Corbin devised a way to funnel $150,000 of county revitalization funds to Stoneridge.
Wasserman and Mullings face charges that include grand larceny, conspiracy and falsifying business records. A Rice spokesman said the case against Batheja is pending.
Batheja and his lawyer could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Developer took shortcuts
Rice said her office's three-year investigation was inspired by a 2007 Newsday article that revealed Stoneridge took shortcuts when filling in and stabilizing a New Cassel site, creating an unstable foundation for a building. The site would have housed a bank and a supermarket.
Corbin, 63, of Westbury, said in a phone interview Thursday evening that Rice is using him to boost her bid for state attorney general. Rice is a Democratic candidate for the statewide office.
"It's bogus charges," he said. "I'm wounded and she's taking advantage of it."
Chris Munzing, a spokesman for the district attorney, said the office had no comment on Corbin's statements.
Corbin was sentenced in June to 18 months in a federal detention center for failing to report on his taxes $226,000 he received from a developer who had been working in New Cassel. He will surrender to federal authorities on Aug. 5.
Corbin denied demanding payments from Batheja.
"He's never asked me to do anything illegal and I never asked him to do anything illegal," Corbin said of Batheja. "I never advocated for any developer. Never . . . I feel so helpless."
Williams in 2002 pleaded guilty in an unrelated federal mortgage-fraud case and resigned his seat as a legislator. Thursday, his attorney, Michael Rosen of Manhattan, said the father of two was released without bail in that case.
Ailing mother in Jamaica
The other defendants also surrendered their passports.
"This is an empty indictment," Wasserman's attorney, Joel R. Weiss of Uniondale, said after the arraignments. "He is innocent." He said he and Wasserman are "mystified" by the charges.
Wasserman, 51, of Roslyn, resigned in 2006 after pleading guilty in a bribery scandal involving a Roslyn Heights builder. His attorney said Wasserman now works as a consultant and runs his father's carpet business.
"There's no allegation as to David that he received a penny or anything of value," Weiss noted of the father of three. "He's a religious man who attends synagogue regularly."
With Sophia Chang
and Robert E. Kessler