MorganRants

Things I am passionate about. Injustice, stupidity, intolerance, bigotry and small-mindedness. Oh and there might just be some humor to offset the whole thing.

Lawmaker Found Guilty of Corruption

Posted by morganwrites on April 20, 2008

(NYT) – State Assemblywoman Diane M. Gordon of Brooklyn was convicted on Tuesday of receiving a bribe for offering to help a developer acquire a parcel of city-owned land in her district if he would build her a free house in a gated community in Queens.

The conviction means that Ms. Gordon, 58, a four-term Democrat from East New York, immediately loses her Assembly seat, which will remain vacant until the general election in November.

She was acquitted of the top count against her, bribe-receiving in the second degree, but was convicted of bribe-receiving in the third degree and three other corruption felonies. She faces up to 10 years in prison at her sentencing next month.

The gated community, in Lindenwood, Queens, just over the Brooklyn border, was never built, though Ms. Gordon did have a pair of doors worth $600 installed in her office. And the developer, Ranjan Batheja, never acquired the city-owned parcel.

Prosecutors said that for much of 2004 and 2005, though, she lobbied to help Mr. Batheja in his bid to build affordable housing on the parcel, while they moved forward with plans for the home she called her dream. She told him she wanted an “impressive” detached house with ample living space and walk-in closets.

Ms. Gordon’s comments were captured on tape by Mr. Batheja, who had been caught trying to bribe an undercover investigator. Hoping to win lenient treatment from prosecutors, he had agreed to wear a wire while meeting with her.

Ms. Gordon’s lawyers had argued that she was the victim of entrapment by prosecutors and said there was no quid pro quo because at one point Ms. Gordon told Mr. Batheja that she would help him with the redevelopment project regardless of what happened with her house.

But on tapes played at the trial, Ms. Gordon tells Mr. Batheja, “One hand washes another,” and while showing him the vacant land, on New Lots Avenue near her office, she says to his hidden camera, “We got to do something with this land so I can get, get me a home now.” If it had been built, the house would have been worth about half a million dollars, Mr. Batheja testified.

In a statement released after the verdict, Rose Gill Hearn, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation, said, “That Gordon, a state legislator, seized on a city program to build affordable housing on city-owned land in her district as her opportunity to sell her office and to obtain her own luxury housing elsewhere adds a layer of outrageousness to her misconduct.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said of the conviction, “This is an unfortunate situation, and my heart goes out to Ms. Gordon’s family. However, this has been proved to be a breach of the public trust.”

Ms. Gordon is the third state lawmaker from Brooklyn to be convicted of corruption in recent years. Former Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr., once the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, is serving three to nine years in prison for extortion and campaign-finance violations. And former Assemblyman Roger L. Green pleaded guilty in 2004 to falsely billing the state for travel expenses.

Ms. Gordon, a former schoolteacher with a business degree, declined to comment on the verdict or on her plans as she left court on $35,000 bail. One of her lawyers, Bernard Udell, said he was disappointed at the verdict, but added, “We’re going to do our best to see that the sentence is one of probation or less.”

The lead prosecutor, Michel Spanakos, noted that Ms. Gordon was convicted of eight out of nine charges, and said he hoped she would get prison time.

The top charges that Ms. Gordon was convicted of were third-degree bribe-receiving — soliciting or agreeing to accept a benefit in return for taking action as a public servant — and a similar charge covering state legislators.

She was also convicted of official misconduct for trying to obtain the house. The jurors, who deliberated for three days, would not comment on why they convicted Ms. Gordon on charges pertaining to the house but acquitted her of second-degree bribe-receiving, which covers gifts worth $10,000 or more.

Ms. Gordon was elected in 2000 to represent the 40th Assembly district, where she grew up. It includes parts of East New York, Brownsville and Canarsie, three working-class communities in eastern Brooklyn.

Mr. Batheja, owner of a company called Stoneridge Homes in Queens, testified at the three-week trial that he met Ms. Gordon in 2003 and that she said she would like him to put in new doors in her district office in Brooklyn. Nothing immediately came of the conversation, but in 2004, Mr. Batheja said, he asked to meet with Ms. Gordon.

By then, he had been caught trying to bribe an undercover investigator posing as a city inspector and had mentioned Ms. Gordon to prosecutors, piquing their interest. Prosecutors would not say what specifically about her caught their interest.

In October 2004, Mr. Batheja and Ms. Gordon met at her office. On a tape of the meeting played at trial, the assemblywoman asks Mr. Batheja what happened to her doors, then says she would advocate for him to be named redeveloper of a vacant city-owned parcel in her district. She then asks Mr. Batheja if she would be able to get a house in a gated community he was building in Lindenwood. “Let’s work one hand work together,” she tells him. “One hand washes another.”

In subsequent taped conversations, Ms. Gordon tells Mr. Batheja that she wants to get the house for a dollar, though she later says that a lawyer told her she had to pay a significant amount for the house, at least on paper, to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Shortly after Ms. Gordon’s initial conversations with Mr. Batheja about the house and the vacant parcel on New Lots Avenue, she began urging city officials to allow redevelopment of the parcel, which prosecutors valued at $2 million. In November 2005, she faxed several letters of recommendation to Mr. Batheja — one from her and two from other local officials — to be included in his application to be named redeveloper of the site.

Mr. Batheja, meanwhile, was trying to get Ms. Gordon to accept $3,000 in cash from him that she would then return to him as a down payment on the house to make the transaction look legitimate.

By then, she had received anonymous letters warning her not to take gifts from him, and she rebuffed him. But prosecutors said she was too late. She was indicted in July 2006. Four months later, she was re-elected with more than 90 percent of the vote.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April, 10, 2008

An article on Wednesday about the conviction of Assemblywoman Diane M. Gordon, a Brooklyn Democrat, on corruption charges misidentified, in some copies, the person who said in a statement released after the verdict, “That Gordon, a state legislator, seized on a city program to build affordable housing on city-owned land in her district as her opportunity to sell her office and to obtain her own luxury housing elsewhere adds a layer of outrageousness to her misconduct.” The speaker was Rose Gill Hearn, New York City’s commissioner of investigation — not Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney.

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