New York Assemblyman Stevenson Charged With Taking BribesDon Jeffrey, Freeman Klopott and Christie Smythe
New York Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was charged with taking bribes from developers of adult day care centers in exchange for proposing a bill limiting their competition, the second corruption case involving a state lawmaker unveiled this week.
Stevenson, a Democrat who was elected in November to his second term as an assemblyman from the Bronx, was arrested and charged with five counts of conspiracy, bribery and fraud. He was accused in a complaint unsealed today in federal court in Manhattan of taking $22,000 in bribes.
“For the second time in three days, we unseal criminal charges against a sitting member of our state legislature,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “It becomes more and more difficult to avoid the sad conclusion that political corruption in New York is indeed rampant and that a show-me-the-money culture in Albany is alive and well.”
The defendant, 46, was arrested at 6 a.m. and released on a $250,000 bond after an appearance today in Manhattan federal magistrate court. He didn’t enter a plea. Leaving the courthouse, his lawyer, Murray Richman, said he had “no doubt he will be exonerated.”
On April 2, State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, was among six people, including a Queens city councilman, charged in a separate bribery scheme designed to let him run as a Republican for mayor of New York City.
Assemblyman Nelson Castro, a Bronx Democrat, has been cooperating with federal authorities in the Stevenson case, according to the complaint. He agreed to resign from the Assembly and an indictment against him will be dismissed, prosecutors said.
“I deeply regret my misconduct while campaigning before I was elected to office,” Castro said in an e-mailed statement. “It is my sincere hope that my constituents remember me for the good I have done as their representative rather than for the poor example I set as a candidate.”
Castro said he agreed to cooperate with the Bronx district attorney and the U.S. attorney in “various investigations aimed at rooting out public corruption.” The agreement came after he was indicted by a Bronx grand jury in 2009 for committing perjury in a civil matter, he said.
Charged along with Stevenson are four people who planned to open two adult day care centers in the Bronx districts represented by the assemblymen. They gave Stevenson cash on several occasions in exchange for a legislative proposal that would impose a moratorium on new centers, thus reducing competition, the U.S. said.
“The allegations illustrate the corruption of an elected representative’s core function -- a legislator selling legislation,” Bharara said in his statement.
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, encouraged Stevenson to resign his office.
“Given the evidence that has been presented, he should seriously consider whether he can continue to maintain the public trust,” Silver said in an e-mailed statement.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also weighed in on the recent arrests.
“The allegations of public corruption by city and state officials this week are appalling,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Any time the public’s trust is violated, we must act quickly and aggressively to hold the guilty parties accountable.”
The four other defendants in today’s case are Igor Belyansky, Rostislav Belyansky, Igor Tsimerman and David Binman. While planning to open day care centers on Jerome Avenue and Westchester Avenue in the Bronx, they first sought Stevenson’s help in getting Con Edison to install a gas line, recruiting elderly people for the center and obtaining necessary permits.
The developers named one of the centers after Stevenson’s grandfather, who also served in the Assembly, prosecutors said.
U.S. prosecutors, with the aid of a cooperating witness who wasn’t identified by name, recorded and sometimes took video of the defendants meeting in restaurants and discussing the scheme.
According to one recorded conversation in the complaint, Stevenson talked about the proposed legislation with the cooperating witness, telling him, “You can write down the language, basically what you want.” Then he added, “Are Igor and them putting together a nice little package for me, huh?”
At a steakhouse in the Bronx in September, Belyansky handed Stevenson an envelope with $10,000 cash, according to the complaint. Stevenson declined it at first, warning of surveillance cameras in the restaurant. They went outside where a video shot by law enforcement shows Stevenson taking the envelope, stuffing it in his front pants pocket and then pulling his shirt down over it, prosecutors said.
The case is U.S. v. Stevenson, 13-00873, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).