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Informant: Recorder shut off during prostitute encounter

Bronx Assemb. Eric Stevenson, left, with attorney Murray

Bronx Assemb. Eric Stevenson, left, with attorney Murray Richman, leaves federal court in Manhattan. (April 4, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

A government informant in the corruption trial of Bronx Assemb. Eric Stevenson testified Wednesday that after paying a $5,000 bribe in an Albany hotel, he turned off his secret recording device without authority from agents while he met with a prostitute.

Sigfredo Gonzalez, the star witness against Stevenson, said he kept the recorder off at a later meeting with corrupt Russian businessmen for fear they would mention the hooker, and later had to plead guilty to lying to federal agents about it.

"I was embarrassed," said Gonzalez, a Bronx political operative and former Assembly aide.

Stevenson, 47, a second term assemblyman, faces up to 55 years in prison if convicted of taking more than $22,000 in bribes to do favors and sponsor legislation for four Russian businessmen seeking to develop adult day care centers in the Bronx.

Gonzalez turned informer after he was caught paying bribes to former Assemb. Nelson Castro, himself an undercover informant.

The Russians wanted help from Stevenson, too, because they wanted to put a senior center in his district.

On the stand, Gonzalez has described passing more than $20,000 in bribes to Stevenson in four installments in 2012 and 2013, and vouched for a score of secret audio and video tapes in which the schemers refer to bribes with words ranging from "ka-ching" and "chinchillas" to "the green" and "blessings."

The incident with the prostitute, he testified, occurred after the Russians brought $5,000 to a legislative conference in Albany to reward Stevenson for introducing legislation to block others from developing senior centers in the Bronx.

Gonzalez had an adjoining hotel room with the Russians. After he delivered the cash to Stevenson in a hotel bathroom in a whispered encounter that was inaudible on tape, the Russians sent a hooker to his room to help celebrate, he testified.

"I turned off the recorder and I wasn't supposed to turn off the recorder," Gonzalez said. Stevenson's lawyer contends he never received bribes, saying Gonzalez manipulated the device so it appeared he did.

In other testimony, Gonzalez said that in late 2012 he drove Stevenson to a private meeting with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at his office in Manhattan.

Afterward, Stevenson boasted that he won Silver's support for a $50,000 Assembly capital grant to help develop the adult centers.

The two men discussed on tape splitting the money 50/50 with the Russians, but the group decided not to pursue it.

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