Arrests in Nassau Co. corruption, bribery case

Former Nassau County legislator Roger Corbin, TNH Community Development Agency Executive Director Neville Mullings, former Nassau Co. legislator Patrick Williams, and former TNH Building and Planning Commissioner David Wasserman. ( )

July 22, 2010 5:01:08 PM PDT
Four former and current public officials in Nassau County have been arrested on corruption charges. District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced the indictment 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.

The charges follow a three-year investigation into the multimillion-dollar New Cassel Redevelopment Project.

The investigation revealed multiple schemes, 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, according to Rice.

The indictment accuses 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, of putting portions of the New Cassel community up for sale for their own financial gain.

Williams, 62, of Uniondale; Corbin, 63, of Westbury; Wasserman, 51, of Roslyn; and Mullings, 69, of Westbury are charged with larceny, conspiracy, fraud and related offenses.

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.

Wasserman and Mullings sat on the selection committee that decided which developer would get the project.

According to Rice, Williams formed a shell company in his sister's name to submit a bid to develop one of the sites.

Below is the district attorney's explanation of how the alleged scheme worked:

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 the fact that the bank was committed to being a tenant regardless of which developer was awarded the site. In reality, 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, 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, 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 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 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 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.

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, Corbin introduced Batheja to Mullings, who was also Corbin's campaign treasurer, at a fundraiser. From there, progress on Stoneridge's proposal moved swiftly.

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. 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, 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, not the developer best suited to the project. The value of the property stolen by these four defendants is valued in the millions.

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, 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. Corbin had access to Community Revitalization Project (CRP) funds and tried to funnel $150,000 of these funds to help defray Stoneridge's costs. Once Corbin, Mullings, and Wasserman learned that CRP money could not be used to pay a developer, however, they needed to come up with a new plan.

The perfect opportunity presented itself when LIPA had to move power lines to accommodate the development. 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. 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 all three defendants knew that the LIPA expense was the Town's responsibility.

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. At the end of 2007, Stoneridge defaulted on its construction loans and construction at the sites came to a halt. 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."