Would the last honest politician in Albany turn off the lights – or simply steal the bulbs?
The ever-expanding cesspool of political corruption in New York claimed a Bronx assemblyman Thursday, barely two days after a state senator and five other political figures were busted in a separate bribery scheme.
The arrest of Eric Stevenson (D-Bronx) in a bribery scandal came with an unexpected twist: The two-termer was nabbed with the cooperation of a crooked Assembly colleague who became an informant.
The secret aid of Nelson Castro, who flipped in 2009 after a perjury indictment, raised the specter of additional arrests while spooking many in the Bronx Democrat’s political orbit.
“Here we go again,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said after the latest criminal complaint was unsealed. “This has become something of a habit.”
Stevenson, his eyes bloodshot and his future uncertain, was freed on $250,000 bond Thursday afternoon after a hearing with his four co-defendants in Manhattan Federal Court.
“I’m all right,” he declared – a bold statement given the cache of audio and video recordings made as he allegedly collected $20,000 in cash bribes.
In return, he allegedly tried to help the other conspirators open a pair of Bronx adult day care centers. He did this largely by steering his constituents their way and sponsoring legislation to prevent competing centers from opening for three years , prosecutors said.
Stevenson took the payoffs despite his paranoia about informants and fears about wiretapping, his greed outweighing his caution, according to the complaint.
In one revealing conversation, Stevenson reinforced the perception of the state capital as a place where crooked deals are a fact of life.
“Bottom line… if half the people up here in Albany were ever caught for what they do… they … would probably be (in jail),” he said during a chat this past Dec. 27. “So who are they bullshitting?”
He went on to reel off the names of corrupt politicians and their sentences.
“Look what they gave (former City Councilman) Miguel (Martinez) from Washington Heights for $106,000… Five years for $106,000… (They were)setting an example, that’s why they did that to Miguel, right?” Stevenson said.
“Look what they gave (former state Sen.) Efrain (Gonzalez), seven years, they say, for $400,000,” he said. Referring to former Sen. Joseph Bruno, he added that Bruno “got off on appeal and never went back… they had him for a million.”
The 46-year-old Stevenson, who was reelected just five months ago, was handcuffed Thursday morning with the developers of the adult day care centers: Igor Belyansky, 42, of the Bronx; Rotislav Belyansky, 42, of the Bronx; Igor Tsimerman, 46, of Staten Island; and David Binman, 51, of Queens.
The defendants face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the top conspiracy charge in the five-count complaint.
The 28-page document detailed an outrageous alliance between Stevenson and the crew.
Last September, Stevenson purportedly received an envelope stuffed with $10,000 cash on a Bronx street – shoving the money into his pants pocket.
He insisted on taking the bribe outside a Bronx steakhouse, because he was worried about its security cameras, according to the complaint. Stevenson was unaware that cops were watching from an unmarked car, and the whole thing was captured on video.
Four months later, a failed Bronx political candidate – Sigfredo Gonzalez, working as a cooperating witness after he was caught making a bribe – presented Stevenson with his cut from a stack of 50 $100 bills inside an Albany hotel bathroom.
Gonzalez made another $5,000 payoff to Stevenson inside his car — with the politician placing a finger to his lips, insisting on a silent swap, the complaint charged.
In the plot’s most insidious twist, Stevenson introduced a bill in Albany on Feb. 20 imposing a moratorium on construction of similar adult day care centers – an attempt to eliminate the competition for his co-conspirators.
The bill never passed. But the scam was “an especially breathtaking bit of corruption, even by Albany standards,” said Bharara.
As the scheme evolved, Stevenson and the others referred to the illegal cash payments as “blessings” or “packages.”
“Are Igor (Belyansky) and them putting together a nice little package for me, huh?” Stevenson asked at one point around the turn of the new year. “I got my inauguration I gotta take care of, I got a lot of shit, man. I got to feed all the people.”
Gonzalez explained the allure of easy money to Stevenson during one of their many taped talks.
“When the money is good and there is a way you can get it and you start to do it, and then you do it once, and then you notice that you don’t get caught – then you go and do it again, and you keep doing it again, again, again,” Gonzalez said.
His words were prescient: Stevenson initially turned down an offer of payment, but was soon soliciting the cash in return for his help, the complaint charged.
Castro, 41, became a federal informant after being indicted in July 2009 for lying in an investigation of voter fraud in the Bronx.
“He has been working on looking into many avenues of possible corruption in Albany,” said one source familiar with the matter.
Castro’s work in the Stevenson case began in early 2012. Prosecutors recorded Tsimerman giving Castro a bribe and Gonzalez asking for a cut of the money. Gonzalez, who worked for the day care center developers, then turned around and worked to help prosectors gather evidence against Stevenson.
State officials were quick to condemn Stevenson, particularly after Tuesday’s arrests of state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens) in a scheme to buy Smith’s entry into the Republican primary for mayor through bribes.
“The events of this and the last few days fail… every standard of public service,” said Gov. Cuomo. “We must act quickly and aggressively to hold the guilty parties accountable.”
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver issued a statement calling for Stevenson to resign.
According to the complaint, in exchange for bribes, Stevenson also worked to expedite installation of a Con Ed gas line to one of the day care centers and to help get a certificate of occupancy.
But his biggest promise was to pass the moratorium on construction of new adult day care centers in the city.
According to complaint, Igor Belyansky estimated that the moratorium, had it been enacted, would have doubled his $350,000 investment in the two adult day care centers.
The developers appealed to Stevenson’s pride as well as his pockets: They allegedly offered to name their new center in honor of Stevenson’s late grandfather, an assemblyman in the 1960s.
Defense attorney Murray Richman said Stevenson would be exonerated.