Embattled Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin denied any wrongdoing Wednesday morning, one day after she and several other public officials were arrested in a far-reaching corruption and bribery scandal.
"We will vigorously defend against those charges to restore my good name," the mayor told reporters at brief news conference inside Village Hall. "I'm asking the community not to prejudge me, rather to keep me in your prayers for my good name to restore."
Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret were arrested Tuesday morning by FBI agents and charged with mail fraud for their alleged role in approving the sale of the land for a community center. Federal officials allege they were part of a scheme by Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens to get his name on the Republican ticket in New York City's mayoral race.
Desmaret accepted a series of cash bribes from a cooperating witness in return for steering some $500,000 in state transportation funds to the community center project, according to the criminal complaint against him. Sources familiar with the case tell Newsday the witness is Moses (Morris) Stern. He also was also a cooperating witness in helping make the case against Smith.
Desmaret declined to comment Wednesday, saying his lawyer had advised him not to speak publicly about the charges.
Both Jasmin and Desmaret face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Jasmin, dressed in a black pinstriped skirt suit and black-and-white heels, remained stoic and spoke softly as she read her statement Wednesday morning. She declined to answer questions from reporters.
George Venizelos, the assistant director of the FBI, said Jasmin and Desmaret colluded "in a pure piece of theater" by conning fellow members of the village's board of trustees to vote for a favored developer, unaware that Jasmin had a financial stake in the sale. Jasmin knew all three bidders were working together to rig the outcome, Venizelos said.
The 4-1 vote on Oct. 23, 2012, authorized the village to enter into negotiations with 2 Holdings LLC to develop the land for the Spring Valley Community Center, court records show. Jasmin had coached an undercover FBI agent and two others posing as straw developers on how to make their case to the five-member village board.
Jasmin, 49, and Desmaret, 55, along with four others, appeared in White Plains federal court Tuesday afternoon where Judge Lisa Margaret Smith ordered each of them released on identical bonds of $250,000 each.
Desmaret was the only one of the defendants ordered to wear an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor his movements before their next court appearance on April 23. He was assigned a court-appointed lawyer because he could not afford one.
Village Clerk Sherry Scott temporarily will assume the mayor's duties.
Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe told Newsday the probe was sparked by his office's investigation into the real estate deal, which began three years ago. Zugibe said he decided to bring in federal investigators after it became clear the probe was bigger than anticipated. He declined to say what triggered the probe, but noted that Jasmin and Desmaret's roles did not come into focus until later in the case.
In addition to Jasmin and Desmaret, two New York City elected officials -- Smith and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens)-- also were taken away in handcuffs Tuesday on charges connected to attempted election rigging for a New York City mayoral bid.
Bronx GOP chairman Joseph Savino, who owns a home in Congers with his wife, is accused of allegedly taking $15,000 in cash bribes while trying to gain support for Smith. His White Plains-based law practice has had a lucrative contract with the Town of Clarkstown since January 2012 to handle tax certiorari matters. On Tuesday, the Clarkstown Town Board fired Savino.
According to the complaint, Smith promised to meet with a state senator representing Spring Valley to enlist his help in getting the $500,000 in state transportation funds to aid the project, the complaint said. It's unclear whether the meeting with the unnamed state senator took place.
State Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown), whose district includes Spring Valley, denied any knowledge of the scheme. And on Wednesday morning, Zugibe issued a statement clearing Carlucci of any wrongdoing.
"When approached by the undercover FBI agent, Senator Carlucci acted appropriately, and in a manner one would expect from an elected official carrying out his or her sworn duties," Zugibe said. "During the course of this investigation, Senator Carlucci was clearly acting in the best interest of the public and the people he serves."
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the scheme orchestrated by Smith was a brazen one.
Halloran, a former police officer, envisioned himself being installed as the deputy police commissioner of the NYPD in a Smith administration, Bharara said.
With Thomas Zambito and Christian Wade/I>