Albany ‘Crime Wave’ Seen After Charges Against Assemblywoman
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The indictment of a Brooklyn assemblywoman, Diane Gordon, on bribery charges yesterday makes her the seventh member of the 80-person New York City delegation in Albany to face charges from prosecutors in the past three years.
It’s prompting some watchdogs to call for more policing of state lawmakers, who appear more likely than members of the general population to be criminals — or at least to be caught.
“There is a crime wave,” the director of New York Civic, Henry Stern, said. “The answer is stricter supervision and enforcement and stricter penalties.”
“This has people shaking their head about Albany and the apparent lack of real ethics guidelines,” the legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, Blair Horner, said. “People behave differently when they think no one cares and no one is watching.”
In the case announced yesterday, prosecutors say the legislator, a Democrat who represents East New York, conspired to give a developer a city-owned lot in return for a $500,000 home.
The alleged scheme never materialized, but was evidenced during a series of videotaped meetings in 2004 and 2005 between the developer and Ms. Gordon, prosecutors say. During those meetings, some of which occurred in her district office on Vermont Avenue, Ms. Gordon allegedly pledged her political influence in return for a new home.
Calling the scheme an example of “classic textbook style corruption,” the head of the city’s Department of Investigation, Rose Gill Hearn, said that Ms. Gordon spent “many hours” reviewing architectural plans for the proposed home, which was to be built off Linden Avenue in Queens. She made requests over the layout of bathrooms, closets, and balconies, Ms. Hearn said.
But the developer whom she expected to build the home for free was in fact videotaping the meetings for prosecutors, the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, said yesterday at a press conference announcing the 12-count indictment. Prosecutors began the sting operation following a tip from a city employee that served to cast suspicions on Ms. Gordon, Ms. Hearn said.
Mr. Hynes did not disclose the identity of the developer involved in the sting operation. His voice and hands could be seen in a series of videotapes that Mr. Hynes’s office released.
Prosecutors say that in return for a home, Ms. Gordon pledged to use her influence to secure for the developer a city-owned lot in her district valued at $2 million. The vacant lot, located on New Lots Avenue, was slated to become the site of low-income housing.
Ms. Gordon, who has no official oversight over city land-use, would not have been capable of selling the vacant lot, said a spokesman for the city’s department of housing preservation and development.
“What it seems like she was suggesting she could do is not actually something she would be able to do,” the spokesman, Neill Coleman, said. He said that after the city reviewed proposals, the city transferred the lot to private developers for the purpose of constructing low-income housing.
In order to make the proposed deal look legitimate, the contractor gave thousands of dollars to Ms. Gordon’s mother, prosecutors say. That money would later be used to make payments on the house, Ms. Hearn said. Ms. Gordon has returned all money she received, prosecutors say.
The indictment also alleges that Ms. Gordon asked for and received a pair of hardwood doors from the developer for her district office.
In court, prosecutors accused Ms. Gordon not only of bribery but also of hubris. The home,Ms.Gordon asked for was to “be separate and not attached” to those of her constituents, said one prosecutor, Kevin Richardson, during the arraignment yesterday.
In Ms. Gordon’s mind, Mr. Richardson said, anything else would “have been beneath her.”
Ms. Hearn also said that Ms. Gordon wanted her home in “a quiet, gated community.”
Ms. Gordon’s attorney, Bernard Udell, entered a not guilty plea for her before Judge Robert McGann in state court in Brooklyn yesterday. In court, Mr. Udell defended Ms. Gordon as a dedicated lawmaker who used her office to advocate effectively for elderly and HIV-positive New Yorkers. Of the corruption charges, Mr. Udell said: “The people of East New York have not been harmed one iota and she has not benefited by one cent.”
Judge McGann allowed Ms. Gordon, who has no criminal record, to be released on her own recognizance.
Ms.Gordon left the courtroom behind a throng of supporters who shielded her from reporters’ questions. She left in a blue Cadillac Escalade that was waiting, engine running, for her at the curb.
Aides at her two offices, in Albany and Brooklyn, did not return phone calls for comment.
Mr. Udell, her attorney, said that Ms. Gordon would run again this year to represent the 40th assembly district. He predicted the charges would not deter her constituency from re-electing Ms. Gordon.
“They’ll vote her in again,” he said in an interview. “There is a presumption of innocence here.”
The charges against Ms. Gordon date to February of this year, Mr. Hynes said. They remained secret until yesterday pending an agreement that Ms. Gordon would not run for re-election this year, Mr. Hynes said.
“In April Ms. Gordon was confronted with the videotapes,”Mr.Hynes said.”She agreed to resign at a time we required” and not run for re-election, he said.
Mr. Hynes said the indictment was released today because “she notified us she would renege on those two promises.”
When asked whether Ms. Gordon would be prosecuted had she stayed with their deal, Mr. Hynes declined to answer, saying, “I stopped asking ‘what if’ questions a long time ago.”
If convicted, Ms. Gordon, who was first elected to the assembly in 2000, faces up to 15 years in prison.
Last year, Ms. Gordon was widely expected to be the central defense witness for former Brooklyn assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr. until she refused to testify in court. In that trial, Norman was convicted of pocketing a $5,000 check intended for his campaign.