The Bronx political establishment was turned on its ear this week with federal charges against two key political figures for pocketing apparent chump change in bribery schemes gone awry, and the disclosure another one had been wearing a wire for authorities since 2009.
Assemblymen Eric Stevenson was the latest to be charged in a bribery schemes, arrested Thursday in a conspiracy to sell legislation for cash to help the operators of two west Bronx adult daycare centers.
Assemblyman Nelson Castro, who worked with Stevenson on the scheme, announced his resignation, and disclosed that since his perjury indictment by a Bronx grand juryin 2008, had worked with the Bronx DA and later the feds “with various investigations aimed at rooting out public corruption.”
Bronx Republican Party Chairman Joseph “Jay” Savino was arrested Tuesday, along with Queens state Senator Malcolm Smith and Queens Councilman Dan Halloran in an alleged bribe scheme to get Smith’s name on the GOP mayoral ballot.
Stevenson represents the 79th A.D. covering Morrisania. Castro is in the adjacent 86th A.D. covering Morris Heights.
Talking to a wire
As politicians who worked together on overlapping issues, the complaint recaps a number of discussions between Stevenson and a wired Castro involving helping to open two Bronx senior centers with Igor Belyanksy, his brother Rostislav, Igor Tsimerman and David Binman and “a cooperating witness” identified as Sigfredo Gonzalez, a minor wannabe Bronx political hanger on.
One center was on Westchester Avenue in Stevenson’s district, while the other one, the New Age Social Center on Jerome Avenue in Castro’s district.
Castro also accepted $12,000 from Belyanksy and Tsimerman, turning the money over to the FBI.
In recorded conversations by the cooperating witness, Stevenson initially turned down a “blessing”of a $10,000 payoff in April, 2012, saying he’d help finding a site for the New Age Social Center on Jerome Avenue.
$10G bribe on video
Months later, after various attempts to lure Stevenson into the plot, including naming the Westchester Ave. center after Stevenson’s former assemblyman grandfather, Stevenson relented, videotaped by the FBI allegedly taking a $10,000 bribe outside a Bronx steakhouse in September, stuffing the envelope of thousands in his front pocket, tipping the cooperating witness $500 of it. Stevenson spent some of the money on a $3,500 food cart for his inauguration event.
Stevenson soon crafted a plan to pressure Con Edison to speed up the installation process of a gas line at the Jerome Avenue center. But he first needed to drum up a phony complaint from the cooperating witness, which Stevenson would then use as a cover to speed up the process.
But the group of conspirators wanted to secure a “local monopoly” by bribing Stevenson with another $10,000 in exchange for introducing a bill in February that would exempt them from a new three-year moratorium on the number of senior centers to built in Stevenson’s district.
But Stevenson grew nervous about the plot, saying “somebody’s going to the cemetery” if he were to get caught. He faces up to 20 years on the conspiracy and bribery charges if convicted.
History of corruption
The arrests were the lastest in a long history of corruption in the borough, with recent memories back to the 1980’s, with the Wedtech and other scandals that brought down Bronx Democratic Boss Stanley Friedman, Congressmen Mario Biaggi and Bobby Garcia, and Borough President Stanley Simon, up to recent times with the criminal downfalls of state Senator Pedro Espada and Councilman Larry Seabrook.
The fallout from the Savino/Smith case has already reached Bronx state Senator Jeff Klein, who as head of the Independent Democratic Caucus is co-leader of the Senate with Republican leader Dean Skelos, and who recruited Smith to join his conference. He immediately stripped Smith of his titles and committee chairmanship and suggested he resign. But Smith’ arrest has provided fodder for the rival Democratic Conference to throw mud at Klein’s political wisdom.
In the case of Castro stepping down from his west Bronx seat, Gov. Cuomo is now expected to call a special election to fill the vacant seat.
Borough president reacts
“I am deeply troubled that two Bronx elected officials have been ensnared in a political corruption probe,” Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement.
“We have come a long way here in the Bronx and these reported actions should by no means cast a bad light on the hundreds of hardworking elected and public officials, in my borough and beyond, who work every day to represent their constituents and solve problems for their communities,” he stated. “Public service is a privilege, and violations of the public’s trust cannot be tolerated. These are serious and disturbing charges which need to be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.
For a copy of the complaints and press releases on the arrests of Stevenson and Savino, go to www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/