Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin, Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret and four New York City elected officials denied in court Tuesday that they were part of a complex bribery scheme that was actually an FBI sting involving a Spring Valley real estate developer-turned-informant.
The two Spring Valley Democrats as well as state Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens, a Democrat; Queens Republican City Councilman Daniel Halloran; Bronx Republican Party boss Joseph Savino; and Queens GOP vice chairman Vincent Tabone were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in White Plains in connection with their alleged roles in a far-reaching scheme that involved the New York City mayoral race and a planned community center in Rockland County.
They were charged with racketeering, wire fraud and interference with interstate commerce. The elected officials each entered their not-guilty pleas during a brief court appearance Tuesday in federal court in White Plains before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith. If convicted on the most serious charges of racketeering or wire fraud, they face up to 20 years in prison.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas, with Judge Smith indicating a trial could last four weeks or longer.
Jasmin, 49, smiled and shook her head when asked for comment outside the courtroom after the arraignment. Jasmin, a Haitian-born Christian, wore a Star of David necklace.
After the hearing, Desmaret, 55, greeted supporters with hugs.
The courtroom was packed with reporters and Spring Valley residents, including Viliar Fonvil, a community activist planning a run for village mayor this fall.
"I would like her [Jasmin] to resign and then fight this case out of office," he said, adding that Desmaret should resign as well. Jasmin, he added, "has been working for herself all along, not the people. It's an embarrassment to the village's 30,000 residents."
Jasmin and Desmaret have indicated they do not intend to resign.
Also during court proceedings Tuesday, a prosecutor in the case said that the defendants each have been asked to provide 150-gigabyte hard drives to hold the mountain of evidence against them. The hard drive is needed so the government can share audio and video recordings and other evidence before a trial begins, according to the prosecutor.
Federal prosecutors say the bribery scheme centered on Malcolm Smith attempting to bribe his way to a spot on the Republican line in the New York City mayoral race and an under-the-table partnership that would pay Jasmin 50 percent of the contract to build a community center in Spring Valley. Desmaret is accused of accepting $10,500 in bribes to vote in favor of the planned community center.
The key player in the twin plots, which was unveiled April 2, was Moses "Mark" Stern, a government informant from Spring Valley. Stern is a real estate developer who was implicated in a mortgage fraud case in Rockland County involving a parcel of land next door to his mansion. He struck a deal with federal prosecutors and pleaded guilty to unspecified charges March 13 in federal court in White Plains. His case remains sealed. His cooperation with the FBI and U.S. attorney's office began in 2010.
His lawyer, Kerry Lawrence, a former federal prosecutor, has declined to comment on Stern's involvement in the corruption sting.
Stern acted with an undercover FBI agent in both schemes to ensnare the six political figures, law enforcement authorities said. He and the undercover FBI agent posed as would-be developers of the Spring Valley community center, entering into the secret deal with Jasmin and bribing Desmaret, as well as negotiating the bribes that Malcolm Smith would pay to New York City GOP officials to get his name on the Republican line, authorities said.
According to court papers, Malcolm Smith agreed to help Stern and an undercover FBI agent secure $500,000 in state money for a road project related to the community center in return for the developer agreeing to pay the bribes.
Court papers detail a meeting between Stern and Malcolm Smith on Aug. 8, 2012, at a restaurant in Rockland County where Stern gave Smith $15,000 in checks made out to Smith's campaign. Although the money came from Stern, he used straw donors to keep his name off official reports.
According to state election finance reports, there were $15,000 worth of checks made out to Malcolm Smith on Aug. 8, 2012, that came from five donors, with the bulk of it -- $8,500 -- in the names of Esther and Joseph Markowitz of Sunrise Drive in Monsey.
Esther and Joseph Markowitz could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
In addition, Malcolm Smith and Stern discussed having the developer secure $100,000 to dole out to other state senators to support Smith's bid for a leadership position in Albany, according to the indictment.
Karas set July 19 as the next court date in the case.