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Second state legislator accused of corruption

Two days after a state senator was arrested for trying to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot, a state assemblyman has been accused of accepting payments to sponsor legislation that would benefit developers of an adult day care center in the Bronx.

It was déjà vu all over again, as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stepped to the microphones to announce that yet another New York state lawmaker has been accused of bribery and corruption.

“For the second time in three days, we unseal criminal charges, against a sitting member of our state legislature,” said Bharara. “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.”

This time, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, a Democrat from the Bronx, has been charged in a federal complaint of receiving cash payments in exchange for sponsoring legislation.

The two-term assemblyman is accused of accepting $10,000 in bribes from developers of a proposed adult day care center. In exchange, he sponsored a bill that would impose a temporary moratorium on the building of other day care centers, in order to give the developers a competitive advantage. The four businessmen associated with the planned adult day care center have also been charged.
U.S. Attorney Bharara called the charges, if proven, “breathtaking... even by Albany standards.”

“Those allegations represent the corrupt sale of a legislator’s core duty,” said Bharara. “ A legislator selling legislation."

Stevenson is also accused of accepting another bribe of $10,000 one year earlier to help grease the wheels for the developers’ project, including securing a gas line from Con Edison, hosting events to recruit seniors to attend the day care center, and helping with a certificate of occupancy from the New York City Department of Buildings.

The transactions, at restaurants and hotels -- and even in an Albany hotel bathroom -- were recorded by a cooperating witness. Another assemblyman already in trouble for allegedly committing multiple felonies, was also acting as an undercover witness in the probe.  In exchange for his cooperation, the complaint says, the charges would be dropped and the assemblyman agreed to resign.

Assemblyman Nelson Castro, also a Democrat from the Bronx, has announced that he will resign on Monday. In a statement, Castro admits he was indicted for perjury in a case from 2008, and agreed to cooperate with the federal probe.

Castro says he continues “to cooperate with State and Federal authorities in this prosecution and in other investigations.”

Bharara issued a warning to other potentially corrupt politicians.

“If you are a corrupt official in New York, you have to worry that one of your colleagues is working with us, that your misdeeds will be recorded and reported to us,” said Bharara. “And it will be that much harder to escape punishment.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in a statement said, “Assemblyman Stevenson’s alleged actions as outlined by the federal charges against him are a clear violation of the public trust and cannot be tolerated.” Silver says he’s encouraging Stevenson to resign.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.