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Witness grilled in gov't corruption trial

One of the defense attorneys in a corruption trial against four former government officials in Nassau Monday peppered a key prosecution witness with questions about his previous arrests and guilty pleas.

Ranjan Batheja, who had won the bids in 2004 to develop key parcels of a massive New Cassel redevelopment project, testified last week that he had paid off two former Nassau County lawmakers and a former Town of North Hempstead official so they would steer the project to him.

Under cross-examination Monday, Batheja said that when he was arrested on charges of bribery in a separate case in Brooklyn five years ago, he had faced up to 15 years in jail and the possibility of being deported.

In July 2007, Batheja pleaded guilty to bribery and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors there. He has not yet been sentenced in that case.

In October 2007, Batheja also began cooperating with investigators from the Nassau County district attorney's office, according to testimony.

Among the defendants is former Legis. Roger Corbin, of Westbury, who was sentenced in 2010 to 18 months in federal prison for evading taxes on $226,000 in payments that he received from Batheja.

Corbin pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns, income-tax evasion and lying to a federal agent.

Also on trial are former Legis. Patrick Williams, of Uniondale; Neville Mullings, of Westbury, former director of the town's Community Development Agency; and David Wasserman, of Roslyn Heights, the town's former building and planning commissioner.

All four face charges of fraud, official misconduct and taking the proceeds of a public project.

Under questioning by Williams' attorney Michael Rosen, of Manhattan, Batheja said he had signed a cooperation agreement with prosecutors in Brooklyn in which he agreed not to commit any crimes shortly before he was arrested on charges of stealing $279,000 in a check-bouncing scam at a Merrick bank.

"I did commit a crime and I pleaded guilty to it," Batheja said of the theft.

Batheja repeatedly attempted to explain his answers beyond a yes or no, prompting Kenneth St. Bernard, Corbin's attorney, to ask Acting Supreme Court Justice Alan Honorof to instruct Batheja to answer only the questions asked.

"I don't see the point," Honorof said.

In Brooklyn, Batheja played a major role in a political corruption case against Brooklyn state Assemb. Diane Gordon in 2008 in which she was sentenced to up to 6 years in state prison on bribery charges.

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