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Bronx Assemblyman Worked With Feds to Bust Eric Stevenson to Save Own Skin

By  Carla Zanoni Jeff Mays and Nicole Bode | April 4, 2013 12:05pm | Updated on April 4, 2013 3:23pm

NEW YORK — Bronx Assemblyman Nelson Castro — considered a "rising star" in the Bronx political scene — abruptly resigned Thursday after a long cooperation with feds that helped bring down Assemblyman Eric Stevenson.

Castro, 42, who represents University Heights, Tremont and Fordham, lived a double life as an informant for the U.S. Attorney's office for more than a year in exchange for an agreement not to prosecute him for a perjury case in the Bronx, he revealed in a statement Thursday.

Castro found himself in hot water after Bronx prosecutors charged him with lying under oath about an investigation into the nine people registered to vote using his one-bedroom apartment in the west Bronx, according to the Daily News.

He initially claimed not to know anything about the voter fraud, but prosecutors discovered several of the registered voters were related to him and his girlfriend, the News reported.

"On July 31, 2009, I was indicted by a Bronx County Grand Jury for committing perjury in a 2008 civil matter, held prior to my election to the Assembly ... Thereafter, I agreed to cooperate with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and, later, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, in conjunction with various investigations aimed at rooting out public corruption," Castro said.

"As one result of this cooperation, among other things, this morning a complaint was unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York charging Assemblyman Eric Stevenson and four others with various federal crimes.  I continue to cooperate with State and Federal authorities in this prosecution and in other investigations."

Castro, who previously worked as a chief of staff for state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, had angered many in the Bronx political machine by running without their blessing.

After running afoul of the law, Castro signed on to work with the feds to infiltrate the tight-knit team of businessmen — Igor Belyansky, Rostislav "Slava" Belyansky, Igor Tsimerman and David Binman — who wanted his help opening and running adult day care offices in the Bronx.

He won their confidence by agreeing to accept bribes to steer them toward political help to shut down their competition, according to the criminal complaint.

He also won over one of their associates, who was not named in the criminal complaint, helping turn him into the "Cooperating Witness", or CW, for the feds, who helped bring Stevenson down.

Thursday's revelation brought a sharp end to the career of a man who rose from humble origins in the Dominican Republic, came to the United States at the age of 11, and made his way to become the first Dominican to be elected to public office in the borough. He was considered a rising star in the Bronx, according to a political operative who asked not to be named.

"He's young, he's full of energy and he was trying to be the face of the Dominican community in the Bronx," said the source.

"He was not politically backed but once he won he said: 'I'm here,' and they worked with him. He pushed his way in by huffing and puffing but maybe he puffed too much," said the source.

Castro made immigration issues one of his focuses, and was the chairman of the Assembly Task Force on New Americans.

In his statement Thursday, Castro defended his now-tarnished legacy, saying he was "very proud of my accomplishments and the many benefits that I have secured on behalf of my district over the last four years."

"I deeply regret my misconduct while campaigning before I was elected to office. It is my sincere hope that my constituents remember me most for the good I have done as their representative, rather than for the poor example I set as a candidate."

Castro declined to comment as he left his Bronx home Thursday, referring questions to his lawyer, Michael Farkas.

Sources familiar with Castro when he worked in Washington Heights and Inwood said they were surprised to hear of the corruption allegations and said he was more “scandalous than corrupt.”

"He was like a playboy. He talked a lot with the ladies but I'm shocked to hear anything about corruption," the source said. "He's a young guy who gets in well with the ladies. I had no idea he would go that way."

The move comes as a blow to Espaillat, who is planning to run again for the congressional seat he lost in a close election to U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel in 2012.

"That's bad for him and bad for Adriano," said the source. "He loses a Dominican in the Bronx that would support him for his run for Congress. Now you can't anticipate who they would put in that seat. Adriano is losing a strong ally in the Bronx."

Castro touted his humble beginnings, saying he lived in a “humble apartment in the West Bronx” when he emigrated from the Dominican Republic, “where it became evident that he had a calling to become a servant of the people.”

He was elected to the Assembly in 2008, making him the first Dominican-American elected to public office in the Bronx.