Spring Valley taxpayers to foot bill for graft case
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For the second time in a week, Spring Valley trustees approved the use of public funds to pay the legal fees tied to a federal corruption probe involving Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret.
On Tuesday, the board voted to hire the law firms Sokoloff & Stern and Burke, Miele & Golden at a rate of $200 an hour to help comply with federal subpoenas for information, including audio and video tapes and phone records.
The vote, however, was illegal because trustee Anthony Leon phoned in his approval. Leon had bolted the meeting, saying he was disgusted with the "lying" that goes on among board members. Eager to dispatch with the matter, Jasmin demanded Leon vote over the phone, which is prohibited under the state's open meetings law.
It wasn't until after a Newsday reporter alerted Village Clerk Sherry Scott to the violation on Thursday that Village Attorney Kevin Conway, who allowed the vote by phone, scheduled Friday's revote.
"After I told (Conway) what you said, I guess he looked it up and found it was true, and that's why we're doing it," Scott told Newsday on Thursday.
Officials have not disclosed how much they will allocate to pay the law firms. They have suspended the budget approval process in an effort to find the funds, but if they cannot come up with the money, they likely will raise taxes.
Jasmin and Desmaret have been charged with mail fraud for allegedly taking bribes to use their influence on board members to select a particular developer to build a community center on village land. They have declared their innocence, but if convicted they could face 20 years behind bars.
The case sparked a vast public corruption probe that led to the April 2 arrest of four other political figures, including fellow Democrat state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens).
Trustee Demeza Delhomme reassured the public that the village funds would not go toward defending the mayor and deputy mayor.
"It's only, solely to protect the interest of the village," Delhomme said Friday.
Jasmin recused herself in Friday's vote and Desmaret was not present. The mayor ducked out of the meeting before reporters could ask her questions. Conway declined to comment. "I've got nothing new for you," he said.