Albany State Capitol Building. Flickr Creative Commons license: wallyg
New York State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson (D) from the Bronx
By Joseph Spector, Ganett Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY - A political corruption scandal has struck the state Capitol for the second time in a week. A state assemblyman was charged Thursday for allegedly accepting about $20,000 in bribes in exchange for seeking to pass legislation.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced Thursday that Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, D-Bronx, was charged in a federal corruption case along with four other defendants. It comes two days after Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, was charged in a separate, massive bribery scandal.
Another lawmaker, Assemblyman Nelson Castro officially announced Thursday that he will soon resign from office, effective Monday.
But perhaps the biggest surprise in a lengthy statement released by his lawyer? Castro has been working as an informant for investigators since July 2009.
Castro, a Bronx Democrat, said he was indicted on perjury charges in 2009 related to a civil case from the previous year. After he was charged, he decided to cooperate with local and federal authorities and helped out with "various investigations." He was first elected in 2008 and took office in 2009.
"As one result of this cooperation, among other things, this morning a complaint was unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York charging Assemblyman Eric Stevenson and four others with various federal crimes," Castro said in his statement. "I continue to cooperate with State and Federal authorities in this prosecution and in other investigations."
Castro's involvement was revealed Thursday morning, when an unnamed assemblyman was revealed as a cooperating witness in a criminal complaint against fellow Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, D-Bronx. As part of his deal to cooperate, Castro was required to resign, but the indictment against him will be dropped.
He did not elaborate on the perjury charge. The complaint against Stevenson said Castro had been charged with "multiple felonies."
Castro's full statement is below:
"Today I announce that I am resigning my seat in the New York State Assembly, effective Monday, April 8, 2013.
"On July 31, 2009, I was indicted by a Bronx County Grand Jury for committing perjury in a 2008 civil matter, held prior to my election to the Assembly. I appreciate the seriousness of my misconduct.
"Thereafter, I agreed to cooperate with the Bronx District Attorney's Office and, later, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, in conjunction with various investigations aimed at rooting out public corruption. As one result of this cooperation, among other things, this morning a complaint was unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York charging Assemblyman Eric Stevenson and four others with various federal crimes. I continue to cooperate with State and Federal authorities in this prosecution and in other investigations.
"I am very proud of my accomplishments and the many benefits that I have secured on behalf of my district over the last four years. These include helping thousands of constituents to apply for U.S. citizenship on a no-fee basis, and providing educational programs focusing on the Citizenship & Naturalization Exam; obtaining funding for technology purchases and initiatives for the schools in my district; sponsoring events for senior centers and youth programs in my district and beyond; and securing additional low cost housing units in the area. Most of all, I take pride in how our diverse population has united to transcend racial and ethnic differences and work together.
"My district is comprised of hard working and honest people, devoted to their families and to their community. I deeply regret my misconduct while campaigning before I was elected to office. It is my sincere hope that my constituents remember me most for the good I have done as their representative, rather than for the poor example I set as a candidate.
"Because of the sensitive nature of ongoing prosecutions and investigations, I must direct all further inquiries to my attorney, Michael C. Farkas, Esq."
"The allegations illustrate the corruption of an elected representative's core function - a legislator selling legislation," Bharara said in a statement. "And based on these allegations, 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."
There was no immediate comment from Stevenson's office. A spokeswoman in Castro's office said the assemblyman would release a statement later Thursday.
Stevenson is accused of taking bribes in exchange for official acts, "which included drafting, proposing, and agreeing to enact legislation that would benefit the co-defendants' businesses," Bharara said.
Stevenson was charged with conspiracy to deprive New York state of honest services and federal bribery charges. The charges come with a maximum 35 years in prison.
The case surrounds an adult day-care that the businessmen were hoping to build in the Bronx.
Stevenson was pushing a one-house bill in the Assembly that would have put a three-year moratorium on new adult day care centers in the city, which ostensibly would have helped Stevenson's alleged cohorts.
The bill probably had no chance of passing both houses of the Legislature and getting signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but Stevenson told an informant, "I'm telling you, it's done. It's no problem."
He talked on wiretaps about the prison time that other lawmakers faced for Albany misdeeds, including former Comptroller Alan Hevesi who served nearly 20 months in prison and was released late last year in a pay-to-play scandal.
"Bottom line ... if half of the people up here in Albany was ever caught for what they do ... they ... would probably be in the same place" as Hevesi, the complaint says.
On Tuesday, Bharara charged Smith, the former majority leader of the Senate, and five other political leaders in a bribery scheme to help Smith win the GOP nomination for New York City mayor.
At a news conference Thursday, Bharara knocked state lawmakers for not doing more to police themselves. He said they must see what is going on and turn the other way.
"Where do we go from here?" Bharara said. "The people of NY should be more than disappointed. They should be angry."
Since 2000, at least 27 New York lawmakers have run into legal or ethical troubles.