Informant testifies in Bronx assemblyman's corruption trial

Bronx Assemb. Eric Stevenson, left, with attorney Murray

Bronx Assemb. Eric Stevenson, left, with attorney Murray Richman, leaves federal court in Manhattan. (April 4, 2013) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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A government informant doling out bribes on behalf of four Russian businessmen told Bronx Assemb. Eric Stevenson that "they'll take care of you," according to tapes played Tuesday at the opening of Stevenson's corruption trial in federal court in Manhattan.

Informant Sigfredo Gonzalez, a Bronx political operative, testified that he also assured Stevenson that the businessmen would "bless" him if he helped grease the rails for their senior centers in the Bronx, and minced no words when prosecutors asked what he meant.

"Financially, they'll give us some money," he answered.

Stevenson, 47, is charged with taking more than $20,000 in bribes outside a Bronx steakhouse and inside an Albany hotel bathroom in return for favors that included drafting a piece of legislation that would have blocked others from opening competing adult day care centers in the Bronx.

The case, one in a spate of corruption prosecutions filed last year that cast a shadow over Albany ethics, began when Gonzalez tried to bribe former Assemb. Nelson Castro, who was wearing a wire for law enforcement, and agents used the leverage to turn Gonzalez.

After Stevenson got a tongue-lashing Tuesday from U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska for arriving late on the first day of his own trial, prosecutors told jurors in opening arguments that he had put greed over duty.

"This case is about how he sold the most important function of a lawmaker -- to make laws -- for money," said prosecutor Brian Jacobs.

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"And it's about how he placed his own self-interest above the interests of the constituents he was elected to serve."

Jacobs also highlighted one secretly recorded conversation in which Stevenson, a second-term Democrat, mused about the fate of anyone who might expose him.

"That person," he warned Gonzalez, "would go to the cemetery."

Muhammad Bashir, Stevenson's lawyer, told jurors that Gonzalez was a liar and political foe of Stevenson who manipulated the switch on hidden audio and video devices to make it appear that bribes were being passed when they weren't.

Stevenson, Bashir said, supported the Russians' plan for adult day care centers because they were good for his community.

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"The conversations about money are always initiated by Sigfredo Gonzalez . . . all to make a good man appear to be a bad man," he said.

"He [Stevenson] didn't get any cash payments from anyone."

Gonzalez described himself as an unsuccessful former Assembly candidate and Hispanic affairs aide in Gov. George Pataki's administration who made a living recruiting accident victims to come to medical clinics run by the Russian businessmen.

Once a political ally of Stevenson, he admitted that changed when Stevenson wouldn't support him for district leader in 2010. "I was upset," he said.

He did not explicitly implicate Stevenson in bribe-taking on Tuesday, but is scheduled to resume his testimony on Wednesday morning.

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Stevenson faces up to 55 years in prison on charges of conspiracy, taking bribes and extortion.

The four Russian businessmen have all pleaded guilty in the plot, and Gonzalez said he has pleaded guilty to bribery and other charges.

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