NEW YORK—For the second time in a week, a political corruption scandal has resulted in the arrest of a New York state politician, leading a prosecutor to say Thursday that political corruption in the state “is indeed rampant.”
Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, a Democrat, was arrested in a bribery investigation that also led another state assemblyman charged with crimes to cooperate with the understanding that he would resign his position with the arrests of Stevenson and four other defendants. The identity of the second assemblyman was not in court papers, but Assemblyman Nelson Castro, another Bronx Democrat, told Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver that he is resigning, spokesman Michael Whyland said. Court papers filed in federal court in Manhattan also revealed that a cooperating witness in the case had once been an Assembly candidate.
The arrests came two days after federal authorities arrested state Sen. Malcolm Smith in an alleged plot to bribe his way into the New York City mayor’s race. Smith, released on bail, said he’ll be vindicated. Several other politicians also were charged in that case.
At a news conference Thursday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara highlighted some of Stevenson’s quotes heard by investigators, including one in which the assemblyman allegedly said “if half of the people up here in Albany was ever caught for what they do … they … would probably be in (jail).”
The prosecutor who two days earlier said corruption in New York politics “seems downright pervasive” said Thursday that “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.”
It was not immediately clear who would represent the 46-year-old Stevenson at a court appearance Thursday on bribery, conspiracy and other charges.
In court papers, the government said Stevenson accepted about $20,000 in bribes in exchange for drafting, proposing and agreeing to enact legislation to aid his co-defendants’ businesses, including an adult day care center in the Bronx, the “Westchester Avenue Center,” which opened a month ago. In return for bribes, the government said Stevenson agreed to propose legislation that would ban the construction of any other adult centers that might compete with the Bronx facility for three years.
The government said it had audio and videotaped conversations between the defendants, including a videotape of Stevenson accepting an envelope containing $10,000 in cash last September outside a streak house after the assemblyman had balked at receiving the money inside the restaurant because he feared it would be captured by the business’s video surveillance system.
According to court papers, law enforcement officers videotaped Stevenson stuffing the envelope into his front pants pocket and covering the pocket with the bottom of his shirt.
The government described Stevenson as growing increasingly paranoid about the possibility of being caught as the plot proceeded in the ensuing months, although at times he seemed worried, noting that one had “died in jail” and saying it was important not to “put yourself in jail” and other times boastful of the seemingly light prison sentences given to corrupt politicians. Referring to one of them, he said: “They got him in the, the easiest federal penitentiary you could ever be in,” the government alleged.
In a Jan. 27 conversation described in court papers, the government quoted Stevenson as expressing concern that one of the businessmen he was dealing with might be cooperating with law enforcement.
According to court papers, Stevenson said he was worried that they could “bring me down.” If so, “somebody’s going to the cemetery,” the government said Stevenson told a cooperator in a recorded conversation.