Uncovering mess in redevelopment case

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

What happened in New Cassel's long-delayed and oft-tortured downtown redevelopment process?

Some answers finally may come in a corruption and bribery trial of four men -- including two former Nassau County lawmakers -- that began in Mineola Wednesday.

It took a slideshow, unusual in an opening statement, for the prosecutor to outline the evidence to come in a trial that is expected to last two months.

For more than an hour, Teresa Corrigan, a Nassau assistant district attorney, fought to hold the jury's attention as she laid out strands of a complex web that she contends culminated in the bid-rigging of the New Cassel redevelopment process.

The trial is the culmination of a three-year investigation by the district attorney's office, which alleges that the lawmakers, Democrats Roger Corbin and Patrick Williams, helped steer a multimillion-dollar revitalization project to a specific developer in exchange for $400,000 in bribes.

Some jurors at times appeared to struggle to stay awake as Corrigan wended her way through a presentation that included multicolored figures representing each defendant, some of their relatives and neighbors, redevelopment companies, an alphabet soup series of government programs, and a local grocer.

But while the presentation was exhaustive, Corrigan's bottom line was simple. Of the defendants, working together and working apart, she told the jury, "It was a match made in corruption heaven."

Was it?

Corbin and Williams are alleged to have partnered with Neville Mullings, North Hempstead's former Community Development Agency director, and David Wasserman, the town's former building and planning commissioner.

Each man sat beside his lawyer, sometimes watching the slideshow, sometimes watching the jury. Neither defendants nor lawyers talked outside of court Wednesday.

When the time came for the defense to make its opening argument, there was time for only two of the four defendants to finish their statements. They also appeared to have a tough time keeping the jury's attention as the afternoon wore on.

Michael Rosen, the attorney for Williams, worked to take a sledgehammer to the prosecution's case.

What she alleged were bribes, he said were legal, aboveboard commissions. What she alleged were secret planning meetings, he said were get-togethers of concerned neighbors working to make the revitalization happen.

"Patrick Williams was one of the people with his fingers on the pulse of the community," he told jurors.

Corbin's attorney, Kenneth St. Bernard, said Corbin used his legislative and community organizing experience to help New Cassel. "He was doing what he was supposed to do," St. Bernard said.

The lawyers for Wasserman and Mullings will address the jury Thursday. And it's likely that they will follow the lead of the other defense attorneys in attacking developer Ranjan Batheja, who is expected to be the prosecution's star witness.

Batheja was indicted on bribery charges in the case. His sentencing is pending until this trial is over.

Sitting in court, it was easy to feel frustration. All the community of New Cassel wanted, for decades, was a bank and a supermarket. How could desires that were so simple evolve into a mess like this?

Stay tuned.

You also may be interested in: