A Bronx legislator was charged Thursday with taking $22,000 in bribes after a fellow lawmaker trying to save his own skin wore a wire for the feds, blowing open the latest corruption case to rock New York politics.
The arrest of Assemblyman Eric Stevenson – who allegedly drafted a bill at the behest of four businessmen lining his pockets -- comes just days after six other politicians were arrested in an unrelated graft case.
And there may be more arrests to come.
Assemblyman Nelson Castro, who helped prosecutors go after Stevenson, said in a statement that he has been cooperating for four years in “various investigations aimed at rooting out public corruption.”
Castro, who will not face charges, resigned his seat Thursday under the terms of his deal with prosecutors. Stevenson’s office said he had no comment, and his lawyer could not be reached.
In a statement dripping with disgust, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the new allegations revealed that the state capital was overrun with crooks.
“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,” Bharara said.
Castro was just a fledgling assemblyman when he was secretly indicted in 2009 on a perjury charge stemming from a civil case, he said. He began cooperating with prosecutors after that, according to court documents that did not refer to him by name.
A criminal complaint said that in meetings at a diner, a steakhouse and a hotel room, a group of businessmen bribed Castro and Stevenson to help them open day-care centers for senior citizens.
Stevenson, a two-term Democrat, allegedly agreed to use his influence with a utility company and the city Buildings Department to expedite the opening – and his law-making abilities to crush any competition.
He was captured on tape making a deal to draw up legislation that would impose a moratorium on new centers, effectively giving the gang of four a monopoly, the complaint says.
"You can write down the language, basically what you want," he allegedly told a go-between for the businessmen, an unnamed wannabe pol who also ended up cooperating with the probe.
Stevenson eventually introduced the moratorium bill, which Bharara called “a fairly neat trick that offends both the core principles of both democracy and capitalism.”
He also was caught talking about the payoffs – sometimes referred to as “blessings” -- on tape, prosecutors said.
"Are they putting together a nice little package for me?" he allegedly asked the informant on Dec. 27, going on to discuss his mounting expenses. "I got my inauguration...I gotta feed all the people."
Despite the indiscretions, Stevenson was apparently aware that authorities could be monitoring him.
He warned about "recorders" and refused to accept cash in a restaurant where he spotted surveillance cameras, waiting until he was outside to put the padded envelope in his front pocket, the complaint said.
During the Dec. 27 rendezvous, Stevenson and the informant chatted about a rogue's gallery of state legislators who had ended up in jail -- and how pervasive misdeeds are in the capital, according to the court papers.
"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," he was quoted as saying, discussing how former state controller Alan Hevesi had aged while locked up.
That was three months before another state lawmaker, Sen. Malcolm Smith, would join the ranks of Albany power brokers accused of abusing the public trust.
On Tuesday, Smith, a New York City councilman and four other politicians were charged in a bribery scheme aimed at getting Smith a spot on the GOP ballot in the city mayoral election.
A University of Illinois at Chicago study last year found that New York ranked first in the country for public corruption, racking up 2,522 convictions between 1976 and 2010.
The Associated Press contributed to this report