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New Cassel bribery arrest foreshadowed scandal

Developer Ranjan Batheja walks on a controversial building

Developer Ranjan Batheja walks on a controversial building site in New Cassel on Prospect Avenue near Sheridan street. (Jan. 24, 2007) Photo Credit: Julia Gaines

When Ranjan Batheja, a former key developer in the New Cassel redevelopment project, was arrested and charged with bribery earlier this year, prosecutors made no public announcement and did not divulge who allegedly was on the receiving end of any payments.

The reason became clear last week when Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced the arrests of four men - including two former county legislators - in connection with an alleged scheme to ensure that Batheja, former co-owner of Stoneridge Homes, would be chosen as the project developer.

Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Bennett explained last week that the charges against Batheja after his February arrest did not include the other men's names because of the continuing investigation of former Nassau legislators Roger Corbin and Patrick Williams, North Hempstead Community Development Agency director Neville Mullings, and the town's former building and planning commissioner, David Wasserman.

"This case was much bigger than him," she said, referring to Batheja, 48, of Dix Hills.

Batheja and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

Unlike the news conference Rice held after last Thursday's four arraignments, Batheja's arrest did not come with so much as a news release from the district attorney's office. Still, Bennett said, "There was no secret about his arrest."

Prosecutors said Corbin demanded $200,000 from Batheja, whose company had been building three apartment complexes along Prospect Avenue in New Cassel. Williams received $180,000 and Mullings received $20,000 for their roles in awarding bids to Stoneridge, prosecutors said. In addition, they contend that Wasserman, Mullings and Corbin devised a way to funnel $150,000 of county revitalization funds to Stoneridge.

Wasserman's attorney, Joel R. Weiss of Uniondale, questioned the charges against his client, which include grand larceny, conspiracy and official misconduct.

"It's a basic tenet of fraud prosecution that you follow the money," Weiss said Friday. "The key question is who benefitted? The answer here is, 'Not David.' "

Bennett acknowledged there's no evidence that Wasserman, who was a former chairman of the town's Community Development Agency, personally benefitted financially.

"He is part of the conspiracy," she said.

Wasserman sponsored a resolution that granted Stoneridge the county revitalization funds to which Corbin had access, Bennett said. Corbin, Mullings and Wasserman used LIPA work as a ruse to divert the county revitalization money to Stoneridge because that grant money could not legally be given to a developer, she said.


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