Friday, 30 July 2010 00:00
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced at a press conference on Thursday, July 22, that her office’s three-year investigation into the multimillion-dollar New Cassel Redevelopment Project has resulted in the indictment and arrest of two former Nassau County legislators, one former North Hempstead official, and the current executive director of the Town of North Hempstead Community Development Agency.
“It was the community that was soon eliminated entirely from the [development] process when Williams, Corbin and Mullings realized that taking bribes from developers and stealing taxpayer money was far more lucrative than responding to the voice of the people,” the DA stated to the press.
The investigation revealed multiple schemes, Rice said, including a large-scale bid-rigging and bribery scheme to steer the multi-million project to a selected developer, as well as the theft of $150,000 of public funds. The indictment unsealed July 22 against former county legislators Roger Corbin and Patrick Williams, TNH Community Development Agency Executive Director Neville Mullings, and former TNH Building and Planning Commissioner David Wasserman, lays out how, the DA said, beginning in 2003, these defendants put portions of the New Cassel community up for sale for their own financial gain.
Giving some history, Rice said that in July 2002, the community and local government agencies came together to create a vision for a revitalized downtown corridor in New Cassel. As a result of that process in 2003, TNH, the TNH Community Development Agency and the Nassau County Economic Development Corporation issued a Request for Proposals for seven New Cassel land sites located on Prospect and Union Avenue in New Cassel that were to be redeveloped according to the New Cassel Redevelopment Project.
Developers submitted their plans to a CDA selection committee, which reviewed the proposals and, after several rounds of cuts, recommended the best ones. Wasserman and Mullings were members of that selection committee, Rice said, and Wasserman, who was also the chairman of the CDA, was also on the voting board, which would ultimately choose which developer would get the project.
Prior to the RFP even being issued, the DA stated, and on the heels of his 2002 federal conviction for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, Williams (who was then employed as the human resources director for Nassau Downs/OTB) formed a shell company in his sister’s name for the purpose of submitting a bid to develop one of the New Cassel sites. At that time, Rice stated, Williams also worked as a consultant for a bank that had previously made a commitment to Nassau County and TNH officials, including Neville Mullings, to open a branch as part of the revitalization project.
According to Rice, because the bank’s commitment was never made public, Williams prepared a bid for a site and included a letter from the bank agreeing to be a tenant should Williams be awarded the site. Mullings, a member of the evaluation committee created to review the bids, kept to himself, Rice said, the fact that the bank was committed to being a tenant regardless of which developer was awarded the site. In reality, the DA said that Williams had no advantage over any other bidder.
Once it became apparent that Williams’ company did not have the adequate financial backing or the experience to be a legitimate contender in the RFP bidding process, Rice said that Williams, Mullings, and former Hempstead Village Attorney Douglas Thomas tried to coerce another developer to “buy” Williams’ fictitious “exclusive rights” to the bank’s tenancy.
Shortly before the sites were to be awarded, Rice said that Williams held a secret meeting in the basement of his Uniondale home. Williams, Mullings, Thomas and two representatives from another development group were present at the meeting, the DA said. Rice went on to state that the three defendants falsely represented that Williams’ company had the “exclusive” rights to negotiate for the bank to be a tenant in the project and that Williams would sell these rights to the development group. Mullings told the developer, according to Rice, that if he paid Williams $200,000, Mullings would guarantee the votes of several of the voting members of the CDA and the award of New Cassel Sites B, C, and D. The developer declined the offer.
On March 11, 2004, sites A, E, and F were awarded. Site F went to Douglaston Development, who later hired Wasserman as a development manager at a salary of $250,000 per year, Rice stated, while he remained chairman of the CDA. Sites B, C, and D were not awarded on that date and a new RFP for those sites was issued.
According to the DA, Ranjan Batheja of Stoneridge Homes, who had previously been rejected in the first cut of the bidding process, privately reached out to then-Legislator Corbin to seek his help in resubmitting his proposal. In return for a campaign contribution, Rice said, Corbin introduced Batheja to Mullings, who was also Corbin’s campaign treasurer, at a fundraiser. From there, Rice said, progress on Stoneridge’s proposal moved swiftly.
The DA stated that Corbin, Mullings and Wasserman facilitated Stoneridge’s bid process by giving it preferential treatment, inside information, tips on design preferences, assurances that needed variances would be approved, personal introductions to the desired tenants for the project and instruction on how to secure $300,000 in HUD funding. She said that Mullings introduced Batheja to Williams and both Mullings and Corbin helped negotiate the deal by which Batheja agreed to pay Williams $180,000 for Williams’ fictitious rights to partner with the bank. Williams is also charged with falsifying his state tax return and grand larceny in connection with his failure to report this income.
In May 2004, Sites B, C, and D were awarded after each of the final four developers gave a presentation at a public meeting. During Stoneridge’s presentation, Rice said, Mullings led a standing ovation for Stoneridge, and Wasserman praised Stoneridge in glowing terms. The following night, Wasserman led the CDA Board in its vote to award sites B, C, and D to Stoneridge.
Batheja was only awarded the sites because the four defendants conspired to steal the project and hand it to the developer willing to pay them under the table, Rice stated, not the developer best suited to the project. The value of the property stolen by these four defendants is valued in the millions, the DA said.
Rice said that in return for his role in the scheme, Mullings demanded that Stoneridge pay him $20,000, which was funneled through Mullings’ son.
Months after the sites were awarded to Stoneridge, Rice said that Corbin demanded monthly payments from Batheja for the use of his political influence, which totaled more than $200,000 over a three-year-span. Corbin is scheduled to begin serving an 18-month term in federal prison for tax evasion for failing to pay income tax on this income.
After Stoneridge broke ground on the project, Corbin, Mullings, and Wasserman devised a scheme to help defray Stoneridge’s unforeseen construction costs, Rice stated. She went on to say that Corbin had access to Community Revitalization Project (CRP) funds and tried to funnel $150,000 of these funds to help defray Stoneridge’s costs, and, she said, once Corbin, Mullings, and Wasserman learned that CRP money could not be used to pay a developer, they needed to come up with a new plan.
Rice went on with her presentation stating that the perfect opportunity presented itself when LIPA had to move power lines to accommodate the development. She said in August 2005, Wasserman negotiated a cost-sharing agreement with LIPA whereby TNH and LIPA would split the cost for moving the power lines. Since CRP funds could be used for this expense, Corbin allocated $150,000 to the TNH, she stated, and TNH passed those funds on to the CDA, where Wasserman sponsored a CDA resolution granting the money to Stoneridge. Wasserman claimed that Stoneridge had incurred this LIPA expense, when in fact, Rice said, all three defendants knew that the LIPA expense was the Town’s responsibility.
Rice explained that instead of the award going to the developer most qualified to bring the New Cassel vision to life, the project went to the developer most willing to line the pockets of those with influence over the decision making process. She said at the end of 2007, Stoneridge defaulted on its construction loans and construction at the sites came to a halt and ownership of the sites passed to Stoneridge limited partner, who has since brought in another developer to finish the project and construction recently started up in the spring of this year. Almost six years after the request for proposals were released for the Revitalization of New Cassel these sites remain unfinished and unoccupied.
“The people of New Cassel envisioned a proud and beautiful future for their community,” Rice said. “Instead, they got corrupt officials who only envisioned dollar signs. We must make sure that when the future of a community is at stake, the voice of the people rings the loudest.”
Speaking to the future, the DA said, “A new developer has stepped in and has begun the redevelopment project and the hope is we’ll see exactly what the neighborhood envisioned: a bank, a supermarket and a mixed use housing.”
In a written statement, Rice said that “the charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.”
Patrick Williams, 62, of Uniondale, is charged with Grand Larceny in the First Degree, Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, three counts of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, two counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. He faces up to 15 to 30 years in prison. He is represented by Michael Rosen, Esq.
Roger Corbin, 63, of Westbury, is charged with Grand Larceny in the First Degree, two counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, three counts of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, Bribe Receiving in the Second Degree, Bribe Receiving in the Third Degree, two counts of Defrauding the Government, Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, and three counts of Official Misconduct. He faces up to 15 to 30 years in prison. He is represented by Anthony Ricco, Esq.
David Wasserman, 51, of Roslyn, is charged with Grand Larceny in the First Degree, two counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, three counts of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, two counts of Defrauding the Government, Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, and three counts of Official Misconduct. He faces up to 15 to 30 years in prison if convicted. He is represented by Joel Weiss, Esq.
Neville Mullings, 69, of Westbury, is charged with Grand Larceny in the First Degree, two counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, three counts of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, two counts of Bribe Receiving in the Second Degree, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, two counts of Defrauding the Government, Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree and seven counts of Official Misconduct. He faces up to 15 to 30 years in prison if convicted. He is represented by Fred Brewington, Esq.