Rockland pol on Spring Valley corruption: 'The people deserve better'
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As Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret were released on bail Tuesday afternoon in connection with a widespread federal corruption case, fellow Rockland County politicians distanced themselves from the pair.
"It's a really sad day for Spring Valley and Rockland County," said Kristen Stavisky, chairwomen of the Rockland County Democratic Party and the Democratic commissioner of the county's Board of Elections. "I've seen a lot of great things and I've seen a lot of not so great things in the 24 years I've been here ... but if these charges are borne out and found out to be true, I hope the whole extent of the law comes down on them."
Jasmin, in the fourth year of her first term, was arrested earlier in the day along with Desmaret and four New York City politicians. All allegedly were aiding state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) -- who also was arrested -- win the GOP slot in the New York City mayoral race.
"There's no place for it on our party, any criminal activity or corruption. We won't tolerate it," Stavisky said. "The people deserve better."
Spring Valley Village Trustee Anthony Leon said the allegations "affect the community ... specifically the Haitian community." Jasmin, Desmaret and Leon are from Haiti, as are many Spring Valley residents.
Leon said he is concerned about the long-term damage the scandal may have on a village with "great needs." Spring Valley -- a village of just under 32,000 people -- has a poverty rate of 21 percent. The state average is 14.5 percent.
PRESSURED TO VOTE FOR PROJECT
At the center of the federal probe in Spring Valley was a community center that was to be built on a site adjacent to the Village Hall. Desmaret allegedly hooked up with the FBI-managed property sale and accepted $10,500 in cash bribes.
Leon, a former Planning Board member, said he was "suspicious" of the community center project when his inquiries for studies to be conducted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were rejected.
"I don't know about deals, money exchanged," Leon said about the scandal. But "if I got a deputy mayor fighting so hard for it to me, I feel very suspicious."
Leon, who said he wouldn't give into the "pressure" to vote for the project, instead abstained from voting last year.
"They were fighting hard," Leon said of the mayor and her deputy. "They wanted the project, [but I said], 'Whatever you say; I'm not going to take it.' "
Unfazed by his reluctance, Leon recalled Jasmin and Desmaret's reaction.
"Then they say to me, 'You're only one vote.' "
TRUSTEE: JASMIN 'VERY NAIVE'
Demeza Delhomme, a Spring Valley village trustee since 1999, said the board of trustees will meet Wednesday to discuss leadership as they await word from Jasmin and Desmaret about their return.
"I think the community is left with a black eye, but I believe she is innocent until proven guilty," Delhomme said. "I have to hear from [Jasmin] personally. I don't think it's a great thing, but nevertheless, let's see what she has to say to me."
Meanwhile, Delhomme attributed Jasmin's alleged misdeeds to her "inexperience" in politics.
"I think she's very naive ... I don't think she's qualified to be the mayor. She was naive and she made a mistake," Delhomme said. "Jasmin just got into something she doesn't understand."
Although Delhomme declined to discuss the project proceedings in detail, he said he opposed the project from the beginning.
"I thought it was a bad idea," Delhomme said, despite casting a vote to allow Jasmin to discuss the project with the bogus developers. "I think it wasn't looking OK for the village ... [The plans] weren't clear to me. I was opposed to selling more village ground to the developers."
Bronx GOP chairman Joseph Savino, who owns a home in Congers with his wife, also was arrested for 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.
Clarkstown residents had raised objections to Savino's hiring at the time, questioning his experience and "alleged baggage" that he carried into the job, said Ralph Sabatini, who is a member of the Clarkstown Taxpayers group.
"We, the Clarkstown Taxpayers as a group, and several others, smelled a rat when they hired him," Sabatini recalled.
Sabatini said residents felt the process was not transparent and that Savino was hired despite other bids for the job.
"He had no tax certiorari experience, so why hire him?" Sabatini said.
RESIDENTS: MORE CORRUPTION WILL COME OUT
Many Rockland County residents who long have been vocal about their respective village and town governments expect more corruption to be uncovered in the coming months.
"I'm certainly not surprised. We've been waiting for this for quite a while," said Spring Valley resident Steve White, who has attended Village Board meetings for the past 10 years.
"Public policy gets decided in the mayor's office in private and [public hearings are] just an announcement," White said. "We've been complaining about this for years."
"This is only the tip of the iceberg," Sabatini said. "We clearly think that's true."
Delhomme, while waiting to speak with Jasmin and Desmaret on Tuesday evening, said the village will persevere.
"Somebody gets in trouble and they're gone; the village continues," Delhomme said. "That's why we have the elections coming up in November, so the village will be OK. Nothing will be affected, except now people will be cautious."