NEW YORK - New York State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was charged with corruption by U.S. prosecutors on Thursday, and another assemblyman was forced to resign, in the second federal graft case brought against New York politicians this week.
Federal prosecutors have accused Stevenson of taking more than $22,000 in bribes in exchange for official acts, which included drafting and sponsoring legislation that would have effectively granted a monopoly to a network of adult day-care centers operated by four businessmen.
“So here we go again. This is getting to be something of a habit,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara told a news conference. “For the second time in three days, we unseal criminal charges against a sitting member of our state legislature.
“The allegations illustrate the corruption of an elected representative’s core function - a legislator selling legislation,“ Bharara said.
The investigation that led to Stevenson’s arrest was aided by the cooperation of an informant in the state assembly who has secretly worked with authorities since 2009, at times wearing a wire.
The informant, Assemblyman Nelson Castro, a Bronx Democrat, said he would resign from office as of Monday, as part of a non-prosecution agreement worked out with state and federal prosecutors. The deal allows him to escape perjury charges related to statements made in 2008 when he was a candidate.
“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,“ Castro said in a statement issued through his lawyer.
Castro said he was still cooperating with state and federal authorities “in this prosecution and in other investigations.“ It was unclear whether more arrests would be forthcoming.
ARREST LIKELIER THAN DEFEAT
Since 1999, 20 state legislators in New York have been ousted because of criminal or ethical issues, according to the good government group Citizens Union. The New York Public Interest Research Group found that, since 2007, state senators have been more likely to be arrested than to lose their seats in a general election.
New York’s political establishment is reeling from allegations that elected officials have been all too eager to hand the legislative process over to individuals offering bribes. Calls for reform from watchdog groups have grown more persistent.
Assemblyman Stevenson was accused of helping to obtain certificates of occupancy and a gas line for the adult day care centers, which are non-residential facilities that assist and provide activities for the elderly and people with disabilities. He also agreed to sponsor a bill that would bar competing centers from opening, prosecutors said.
“I just need you to tell me what they want; we prepare the bill,“ Stevenson said at one point, according to prosecutors.
At another point, prosecutors said, he asked if the businessmen were “putting together a nice little package for me, huh?“
Stevenson’s district office declined to comment.
On Tuesday, in a separate case, Democratic New York State Senator Malcolm Smith was arrested and charged with trying to buy a place on the Republican ticket in the city’s mayoral race, in what prosecutors said was his central role in a series of bribery schemes that reflected pervasive corruption in New York politics.
Five other politicians - three Republicans and two Democrats - were also arrested and charged with collectively accepting more than $100,000 of bribes in meetings that often took place in parked cars, hotel rooms and state offices, according to court papers.