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Indicted, wired, and elected: A 'quite unusual' sequence
Even jaded veterans of New York politics express amazement that Bronx Democrat Nelson Castro's last election to the Assembly followed a secret deal with prosecutors to help build public corruption cases.
Scandals come and go, but it struck several Capitol long-timers as extraordinary that Castro wore a wire for prosecutors and won a third term in November while a 2009 perjury indictment against him was kept sealed.
Like a mob enclave or dirty hedge fund, his Assembly office became an investigative backdrop.
The newly revealed presence of a politician-as-mole in the service of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara -- for four years -- had legalists racking their memories for a similar case.
"It is quite unusual," said New York City-based election-law expert Jerry Goldfeder, for someone in Castro's situation "to be allowed to retain public office for the purposes of rooting out further corruption. Obviously the U.S. attorney made a judgment call as to what was more important here, and he made the right choice."
On Thursday, Castro surrendered the Assembly seat he won with 96 percent of the vote Nov. 6, in tandem with charges being filed against fellow Assemb. Eric Stevenson (D-Bronx).
Castro confirmed he's cooperating with authorities in this and other, still-to-be-revealed cases.
Prominent criminal lawyer Michael Armstrong, a onetime Queens district attorney and former assistant U.S. attorney, said Friday that he couldn't recall just such an arrangement.
Convicted ex-Assemb. Brian McLaughlin of Queens did wear a wire in 2007 to help authorities convict the late Anthony Seminerio, another Queens Democrat. But McLaughlin had already left office by then, with charges publicly pending against him.
Nelson's attorney Michael Farkas on Friday reacted to villification that defendants in the Stevenson case hurled at him, as reported in several places.
Farkas told Newsday:
"Unlike the other sitting legislators recently indicted for blatant and offensive corruption, Nelson Castro did not betray the public’s trust while in office. As an Assemblyman he was a diligent, sincere, and effective representative for his constituency. He assisted the authorities with doing exactly what we should all want them to do: stopping corruption in our government. Rather than focusing on how elected officials bought and sold favors, the media and others have instead chosen to vilify Nelson for helping put a stop to it. Such skewed priorities say a lot about why we have corrupt public officials in the first place."
"In 2008 Nelson Castro made mistakes that he deeply regrets. He has spent over four years making amends, and trying to do some good in the process. I don’t expect anyone to have sympathy for Nelson Castro, but, as a New Yorker, I cling to the hope that our government may one day be able to operate at least without money changing hands."