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Corruption trial witness asked about pacts

A key witness against four former local officials accused of corruption was threatened with contempt charges Thursday during cross-examination in a Nassau court.

During his testimony, Ranjan Batheja repeatedly tried to elaborate on his answers, upsetting Acting Supreme Court Justice Alan Honorof.

When defense attorney Joel Weiss, of Uniondale, asked Batheja about his "practice" of serving as an informant in Brooklyn, Batheja said, "I don't like your word, 'practice.' "

Later, the heated exchanges prompted Honorof to reprimand Batheja. Honorof warned that if Batheja did not answer the questions, he would be held in criminal contempt.

Attorneys defending four former government officials in a corruption trial continued to grill Batheja about his criminal past, his cooperation pacts with prosecutors and whether he felt "threatened" by Nassau detective investigators.

Batheja, the developer of three parcels in a New Cassel redevelopment project, testified last week he paid off two former Nassau County legislators and funneled additional checks to a former North Hempstead town official, in a bid-rigging scheme.

Under cross-examination since Monday, Batheja was asked about his arrest on bribery charges in Brooklyn five years ago and the fact that he had faced up to 15 years in jail before cooperating with prosecutors there.

In Nassau, he was arrested in 2008 on charges of theft stemming from a check-bouncing scam; and in 2009 he was charged with theft and bribery in the Nassau corruption case. In connection with the cases, he has pleaded guilty to bribery and grand larceny. He faces up to 12 years in jail.

Batheja, who is not a U.S. citizen, could also be deported if convicted of a felony.

On trial are former Nassau lawmakers Roger Corbin, of Westbury, and Patrick Williams, of Uniondale; Neville Mullings, of Westbury, the former director of North Hempstead's Community Development Agency; and David Wasserman, of Roslyn Heights, the town's former building and planning commissioner.

The men were indicted in July 2010 on charges of conspiracy and grand larceny for allegedly steering work to Batheja in exchange for $400,000 in bribes.

Earlier in the week, Batheja testified that he felt "afraid" when investigators brought up his wife's name and Social Security number and told them he would do "anything" to protect her. When investigators once found him using his cellphone, one told him he wouldn't be able to use one if he was in prison, according to his testimony.

Thursday, Mullings' attorney Frederick Brewington, of Hempstead, asked Batheja about a meeting with investigators in September 2008, when Batheja first told authorities Corbin had done something illegal.

Brewington said, "You were threatened, weren't you?"

Batheja said, "No, sir."

Batheja is expected to return to the stand Monday.

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