THE BRONX — State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was arrested Thursday morning for taking more than $22,000 in bribes just two days after investigators took down his colleagues in the state Senate and City Council for similar activity, the U.S. Attorney's office announced.
In a shocking twist, the feds used a state assemblyman, who was indicted in The Bronx for multiple felonies, as a snitch to help take down Stevenson, a former legislative researcher for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, according to the complaint.
Stevenson has been charged with assisting, for a price, co-defendants Igor and Rostislav "Slava" Belyansky, Igor Tsimerman, and David Binman in their effort to open and run two new day care centers on Jerome and Westchester avenues while quashing competition, according to the criminal complaint against them.
Stevenson pocketed thousands of dollars to help pressure Con Edison into expediting the extension of a gas line, recruit seniors to attend a Westchester Avenue center, liaise with the Department of Buildings, and draft a legislative moratorium on the construction of any more adult day care centers throughout New York City, documents show.
"Stevenson was brazen and blunt in putting his core function up for sale," said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, in a Thursday press conference announcing the arrests. "What he essentially said was, 'Show me the money.'"
Wearing a pale blue rumpled pullover sweater, Stevenson did not speak during his appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon. His eyes appeared watery and red.
He was released on $250,000 bond and had to surrender his passport and agree not to travel outside of New York and New Jersey.
"I'm confident that he will be exonerated," Murray Richman, Stevenson's lawyer, said Thursday.
Richman said he was "heartbroken" by the charges and added that Stevenson has no plans to resign.
"Why would he resign?" Richman asked.
Stevenson is due back in court May 6.
As if something from a crime movie, the charges outline numerous clandestine swaps of money-filled envelopes in parked cars, Bronx steakhouses and even an Albany hotel bathroom, much like the case against Queens state Sen. Malcolm Smith and City Councilman Dan Halloran, who were arrested just two days before.
Bharara noted the two cases were not related.
In one instance, after a meeting at a Bronx steakhouse last September, Stevenson was allegedly caught on video stuffing an envelope filled with $10,000 into his front pants pocket and trying to cover it with his shirt.
According to the documents, he had initially been skittish about accepting the envelope because he thought there were surveillance cameras inside the eatery.
The cooperating assemblyman, who was not named in the federal complaint, is Bronx state Assemblyman Nelson Castro. He gave investigators information that has been "reliable and credible," according to the complaint.
The Jerome Avenue Center — also identified in the complaint as the New Age Adult Social Day Center — gave $1,000 to Castro's re-election campaign on Sept. 24.
In exchange for snitching on his colleagues, Castro will not face the felonies he was charged with by the Bronx District Attorney, according to the complaint. He did, however, resign from office on Thursday shortly after the indictments were announced.
"If you are a corrupt official in New York, you have to worry that one of your colleagues is working with us," Bharara said.
Stevenson's four co-defendants first struck on the idea of bribing the assemblyman to help them open new day care centers during a steakhouse dinner on April 19, 2012, documents show.
Eight days later, an individual who was working with the co-defendants while also snitching on them to law enforcement met with Stevenson and offered to "bless" him with $10,000. The assemblyman initially recoiled from the offer and said he'd help free of charge for "the community," the complaint shows.
But then Stevenson reached out to Castro and gradually warmed to the idea of helping the developers, documents show. Stevenson, who comes from a three-generation political dynasty, even hoped to name the Westchester Avenue Center for his grandfather, Edward A. Stevenson Sr., who was also a Bronx assemblyman.
The informant visited Stevenson in his Albany office, where they discussed state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., who had been convicted the day before on May 14, 2012.
"What happens in this business Eric… when the money is good and there is a way you can get it and you start to do it, and then you do it once, and then you notice that… you don’t get caught, then you do it again, and you keep doing it again, again, again, and that’s what happens," the witness told Stevenson, according to documents.
"In this particular business... you've gotta be real careful," he added.
The witness then told Stevenson that, as the day care developers had paid Castro, "They'll bless you too, brother... They'll take care of you."
Rostislav Belyansky drafted the first check to Stevenson for $2,000 as a campaign contribution for "Stevenson 2012" on July 25.
Asked to comment outside the federal courthouse Thursday, Belyansky said only, "It's all bulls--t."
Later, Stevenson met with the cooperating witness on Jan. 27, 2013, and said he was worried one of his accomplices, Tsimerman, might be working with cops and that his calls were being recorded.
He told the witness that if "they bring me down" then "somebody's going to the cemetery."
Stevenson has represented Morrisania and East Tremont since 2011, but in light of his arrest, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is asking that he resign.
"Given the evidence presented, he should seriously consider whether he can continue to maintain the public trust," Silver said in a statement.
Con Edison released a statement Thursday saying the criminal complaint "does not remotely suggest there was any wrongdoing by the company."
A former colleague was shocked by the charges against Stevenson.
"I'm very surprised. I had no idea," said the colleague, who had met the assemblyman when he was still working for the City Council. "From everything I know of Stevenson, he's done a number of different things for the city.
"I had no idea this was going on," the colleague added.
Between 2007 and 2010, Stevenson worked as a legislative clerk for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, ultimately earning $57,064.
"I didn't particularly ever interact with him so I couldn't really tell you about that," Quinn told DNAinfo.com New York after an event at a Staten Island hotel Thursday. "As I understand it, all of these charges relate to his time in the Assembly."
Quinn said the charges against Stevenson are "deeply troubling."
"There are, unfortunately, criminals in all kinds of professions, but if these charges are true, they represent three outrageous abdications of people's highest responsibility to the public," Quinn said, referring to the high-profile arrests Tuesday that have rocked the New York political community.
Smith and Halloran were charged with bribing Republican officials in an effort to get Smith, a Democrat, on the GOP ballot.
Their arrests prompted Bharara to condemn the state's "corridor of corruption." He went on to characterize Thursday's arrests as a "breathtaking bit of corruption, even by Albany's standards."
Stevenson seemed to be aware of Albany's corruption problem too. He met with the confidential informant on Dec. 27, 2012, to discuss drafting legislation for a moratorium on adult day care construction. Their chat continued as the two stepped into the informant's car.
"Bottom line," Stevenson said, "if half of the people up here in Albany was ever caught for what they do ... they ... would be in [prison] so who are they bulls----ing?"
With reporting from Jill Colvin, Ben Fractenberg, Andrea Swalec and Victoria Bekiempis.