In the second major New York political corruption case this week, federal prosecutors Thursday charged a Bronx assemblyman with taking $22,000 in bribes from a businessman he called "Santa" and said that another legislator facing charges had assisted their investigation as a wire-wearing informant.
Bronx Democrat Eric Stevenson, charged with bribe-taking that included $4,500 delivered in an Albany hotel bathroom, allegedly said in one recorded conversation about a politician who had gone to jail, "Bottom line, if half the people up here in Albany was ever caught for what they do they would probably be in the same place."
The charges against Stevenson came two days after Queens state Sen. Malcolm Smith and five others were charged in a corruption scheme linked to the New York City mayor's race. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the cases highlighted "rampant" corruption in New York government that is both brazen and tolerated.
"What has been most disheartening is the deafening silence of many individuals who, over the course of this investigation and others, saw something and said nothing," Bharara said. "What does it say about the culture . . . in our system of government when officials are aware of criminal conduct around them and they remain silent?"
Stevenson, 46, a second-term assemblyman, was charged with taking repeated bribes in return for doing a series of favors to help four businessmen develop adult day-care centers in the Bronx, and later sponsoring a bill for a "moratorium" that would block potential competitors. The bill, introduced in February, is pending in the Assembly.
The four Bronx businessmen were identified as Igor Belyansky, Rotislav Belyansky, Igor Tsimerman and David Binman. They and Stevenson were charged with bribery and conspiracy. The five were all released after brief appearances in federal court in Manhattan Thursday. They did not enter pleas, but Stevenson's lawyer said he would be exonerated.
The legislator working as a cooperating witness, not named in the criminal complaint, was later identified as Bronx Assemb. Nelson Castro, a third-term Democrat. Castro resigned Thursday, pursuant to a non-prosecution agreement, and said in a statement he had cooperated in the Stevenson case, "among other things."
Castro's cooperation began some time after he was indicted on a perjury charge in the Bronx in 2009. He became the target of the group's bribe scheme in 2012, and his cooperation led an unnamed associate of the four businessmen -- later identified as a one-time Bronx Assembly candidate named Sigfrido Gonzalez -- to secretly plead guilty and become an informant last year.
Gonzalez was allegedly told by the group to recruit a second legislator and sought out Stevenson 12 months ago. After first checking out the businessmen with Castro, he allegedly agreed to help expedite services from Con Ed and a certificate of occupancy for an adult center in return for $12,000 in bribes.
When the moratorium legislation was discussed, Stevenson asked for another $10,000, which was delivered in two payments. "I just need you to tell me what they want," he allegedly said in one conversation. "We prepare the bill . . . You can write down the language, basically what you want."
"Are Igor and them putting together a nice little package for me, huh?" he added.
During the course of the plot, the complaint said, the businessmen offered to name one of their adult centers for Stevenson's grandfather, a onetime assemblyman, while Stevenson referred to defendant Igor Belyansky as "Santa" and called the bribes "blessings."
But Stevenson also allegedly worried about a "paper trail" that could expose him, and discussed other Albany politicians caught in corruption scandals -- ranging from former Comptroller Alan Hevesi to former state Sens. Efrain Gonzalez, Joe Bruno, Pedro Espada and Carl Kruger, and former City Councilman Miguel Martinez.
He marveled to the informant that Martinez received "five years for $106,000" to set "an example," while they "had" Bruno for "a million" but he "got off on appeal and never went back," and Kruger spent his whole career "extorting money" but "got three years" in "the easiest federal penitentiary you could ever be in."
"Be careful of those things, man, the recorders and all those things, man," Stevenson warned the informant who was secretly recording him.In the case filed Tuesday, Smith, City Councilman Dan Halloran and two Republican county leaders were charged with a bribery scheme to get Smith on the mayoral ballot. Bharara said charges about New York's "show-me-the-money culture" were becoming "a habit" that should make New Yorkers "angry."
With Yancey Roy and
Anthony M. DeStefano
TROUBLE IN POLITICS
GOV. ELIOT SPITZER was accused of patronizing a high-priced escort service while in office. He resigned.
JOSEPH BRUNO, former Republican leader of the state Senate, was convicted in 2009 after being accused of accepting $240,000 to steer a $250,000 grant to a business associate. A federal appeals court tossed the conviction in November 2011. Federal prosecutors charged him again six months later with two counts of honest services fraud. He pleaded not guilty.
ASSEMB. VITO LOPEZ (D-Brooklyn) was accused of sexually harassing female staffers. Despite denying the charges, Lopez was forced to resign as Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman, stripped of his seat as Housing Committee chairman and censured by the Assembly.
STATE SEN. SHIRLEY HUNTLEY (D-Jamaica) was indicted in August on charges she took part in a scheme to funnel public money into a phony not-for-profit organization she created. She pleaded not guilty.
FORMER STATE ASSEMB. AND STATE SEN. NICHOLAS SPANO (R-Yonkers) pleaded guilty in February 2012 to failing to pay taxes on a $45,000 real estate commission and about $5,000 in rental payments from 2000 to 2008. In June 2012, a judge sentenced him to a year and a day in prison.
FORMER STATE SEN. PEDRO ESPADA JR. (D-Bronx) in May 2012 was convicted after being accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a health care clinic he founded. Five months later, he pleaded guilty to tax evasion.
On Tuesday, STATE SEN. MALCOLM SMITH on Tuesday was accused of bribing GOP leaders in Queens and the Bronx in exchange for getting him into that party's primary for mayor.