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Witness in Nassau corruption trial jailed

Raj Batheja, the developer of Stoneridge Homes, a

Raj Batheja, the developer of Stoneridge Homes, a controversial building site in New Cassel, stands near the construction site and shows a Newsday reporter photos of work on the site and the site log. Neville Mullings, the executive director of the North Hempstead CDA, is right. (Jan. 24, 2007) Credit: Newsday/Julia Gaines

A judge presiding over a Nassau corruption trial Thursday threw the prosecution's star witness in jail for 30 days for criminal contempt, saying he was being evasive in his testimony.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Alan Honorof also fined Ranjan Batheja $1,000, the maximum penalty allowed, for his conduct on the witness stand.

After Batheja finished testifying Thursday in the trial against four former government officials, Honorof excused the jury until the trial resumes May 7.

Honorof then told Batheja that he was holding him in contempt after issuing two warnings. Batheja, who said he "didn't lie to the judge," was immediately placed in handcuffs.

An attorney representing Batheja asked if he could address the court. The judge said no.

In his decision, Honorof wrote that despite repeated warnings, Batheja "has persistently, flagrantly and repeatedly and in a contumacious manner, after having been sworn, refused and evaded answering legal and proper interrogatories."

Batheja, a builder on a major redevelopment project in New Cassel, has pleaded guilty to bribery and has been cooperating with prosecutors.

Batheja testified against former Nassau Legis. Roger Corbin of Westbury; ex-Legis. Patrick Williams of Uniondale; Neville Mullings of Westbury, the former director of the North Hempstead Community Development Agency; and David Wasserman of Roslyn Heights, the town's former building and planning commissioner.

The four were indicted in 2010, charged with conspiracy and grand larceny for allegedly steering work to Batheja for $400,000 in bribes.

During Batheja's testimony, Honorof warned him several times that he was failing to answer questions directly.

Wednesday, Batheja admitted to lying under oath twice in prior testimony. Thursday, Batheja was grilled about additional inconsistencies.

Jim Cohen, a criminal law professor at Fordham Law School, said, "It's extremely unusual for a judge to find a witness in summary contempt and then jail him."

Corbin's attorney, Kenneth St. Bernard of Mineola, asked Batheja about a civil case in which a judge found Batheja had lied and submitted falsified documents. Earlier, Honorof told the jury those findings remain in effect.

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