Three former public officials and one current local agency head conspired to have an unqualified developer build the multi-million dollar New Cassel Redevelopment Project by funneling inside information to the developer in exchange for a combined total of $400,000 in bribes, Nassau County prosecutors said Thursday.
Former Nassau County legislators Roger Corbin and Patrick Williams both pleaded not guilty in Nassau County court Thursday to theft, conspiracy, fraud and other charges. Neville Mullings, the executive director of the Town of North Hempstead Community Development Agency (CDA), and David Wasserman, that town’s former building and planning commissioner, also pleaded not guilty Thursday to similar counts and charges of official misconduct.
“The people of New Cassel envisioned a proud and beautiful future for their community,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said while announcing the allegations, which were the results of a three-year investigation. “Instead, they got corrupt officials who only envisioned dollar signs.”
At the heart of the alleged scheme, the officials manipulated a 2003 downtown revitalization plan that was the joint vision of the community, town and county to bring a supermarket, bank and new housing into the blighted neighborhood. As a result, the sites that were slated for taxpayer-funded redevelopment at the corner of Prospect and Union Avenue currently remain unfinished and unoccupied.
Rice said the conspiracy was multi-layered: Williams, 62, of Uniondale, first formed a shell company in his sister’s name and submitted a bid to develop one of the New Cassel sites; when the firm was found to have insufficient financing, Williams tried to coerce a developer to buy what was falsely described as “exclusive rights” for a bank’s tenancy; In the same meeting, a 69-year-old Mullings of Westbury said if the developer paid him $200,000 he would guarantee that CDA, the agency in charge of choosing a builder, would pick his firm, according to prosecutors.
That developer declined the offers.
Later, Ranjan Batheja of Stoneridge Homes, whose bid was rejected, reached out to then-Legislator Corbin, 63, of Westbury, for help resubmitting. In return for a campaign contribution, Corbin introduced Batheja to Mullings, who was also Corbin’s campaign treasurer, prosecutors said.
Corbin, Mullings and Wasserman, 51, of Roslyn, then gave Stoneridge inside information, tips on design preferences, assurances that variances would be approved and personal introductions to the desired tenants, prosecutors said. Batheja allegedly agreed to pay Williams $180,000 for the fictitious rights to partner with the bank.
The CDA later awarded Stoneridge the work to some of the sites but in return, Mullings allegedly demanded that Stoneridge pay him $20,000, which investigators said was funneled through Mullings’ son. Corbin also demanded and collected more than $200,000 from Batheja over a three-year-span, Rice said.
The final alleged scam came when Corbin, who had access to Community Revitalization Project (CRP) funds, tried to funnel $150,000 to help defray Stoneridge’s construction costs, prosecutors said. CRP funds cannot be used to pay developers, however, but when LIPA had to move power lines to accommodate the development, Wasserman negotiated an agreement for the town and LIPA to split the costs.
Corbin allocated $150,000 to the town, the town passed the funds on to the CDA, which granted the money to Stoneridge under the false pretense that the developer helped pay for the LIPA work, Rice said.
“I’ve read better fiction in Marvel comic books,” said Fred Brewington, attorney for Mullins. “I’m appalled that the district attorney’s office has chosen to make these claims in the fashion that they have and at the time that they have.”
Rice, a Democrat, is currently running for New York State Attorney General.
Joel Weiss, attorney for Wasserman, described the grand jury indictment as “empty.” He said: “There’s no place in the indictment where he claimed he received any money.”
Attorneys for Corbin and Williams could not be reached for comment.
Corbin is scheduled to begin serving an 18-month federal prison after pleading guilty in January to tax evasion and lying to federal investigators. Williams pleaded guilty in 2002 to federal conspiracy charges and served six months home detention.
All four face up to 30 years in prison.
Stoneridge, which has not been charged in connection with the allegations, defaulted on its construction loans and construction at the sites came to a halt in 2007, prosecutors said. Ownership Stoneridge’s sites has been passed to another developer to finish the project. Construction started up again in the spring.