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Embattled Brooklyn Assemblymember Diane Gordon elected to play the entrapped victim in court last week amid charges that she had planned to use her political influence to get a new home from a developer looking to build in her district. As Assistant District Attorney Michael Spanakos began his bribery case against the eight-year Assemblymember Thursday, he went directly to the videotape that allegedly tells it all: Gordon going over the details of her dream home with developer Ranjan Batheja. Gordons 40th Assembly District encompasses East New York, Brownsville, Spring Creek and a small pocket of Canarsie. Prosecutors charged that Gordon agreed to pull some political favors to make sure that Batheja was given a $2 million parcel of city-owned land on Livonia Avenue between Jerome and Barbay streets to develop. In return, Batheja would allegedly build her a $500,000 home in Queens, where she planned to retire to. According to the scam, Gordon said that she would pay for the house, but at a very low cost even lower than the best deal in the current housing market. She was going to buy the home for $1, Spanakos alleged. Batheja secretly taped the conversations he had with Gordon as she elaborated in great detail exactly how she wanted this free home to look like and demanding amenities such as granite kitchen counters, stainless steel appliances, cherry wood cabinets and two Jacuzzis in each bathroom, according to published reports. I would like a nice-sized bedroom, a nice-sized living room, Spanakos explained, quoting Gordon from the recordings. I want it to be impressive. Thats what I want it to be. For over a year Diane Gordon was soliciting benefits from Ranjan Batheja, and it was influencing her actions as a public servant, he explained. According to the elaborate plan Gordon allegedly finagled, Batheja was not only required to build Gordons house, but give the legislator enough money to put a down payment on the property she wanted to build on. Gordon allegedly told Batheja that if he wanted the $2 million property in her district, he should give her mother, Helen Staggers, small cash payments until the senior had enough money to put a down payment on the Queens property. He would then build the house for Staggers, who would ultimately transfer the title to Gordon for $1, officials alleged. The alleged scam was hammered out between October 2004 and November 2005, said prosecutors. Gordon, who was completely unaware that Batheja was videotaping her with spy cameras inside his SUV and other spots, allegedly went so far as to implicate former City Councilmember Pricilla Wooten, claiming that the retired legislator had gotten the same deal from another developer. When contacted by the New York Daily News last week, Wooten refuted the inference, stating, Its been rumored for quite some time and its a lie. I got my house legit. Im resentful of her [Gordon] even using me as a conversation piece, she said. I dont even want to be associated with that woman. Gordons attorney Danielle Eaddy claimed that her client was entrapped and that she was going to help Batheja get the clearances he needed to build on the East New York property even if he refused to build her dream home. Batheja only agreed to build Gordons home after he found himself in trouble with the law and was guaranteed leniency if he managed to get Gordon on tape accepting a bribe, Eaddy said. She [Gordon] wanted a house, clearly, discounted or free, but she also wanted the land developed, Eaddy explained to the jury. The tapes do show that Gordon had discussed senior citizen housing and a cultural center for the spot Batheja wanted to build on. But its hard to say shes entrapped when we have her on tape detailing everything she wanted in this free home, a source with the prosecutors said this week. Prosecutors said that Gordon returned the money Batheja had already given her only after she learned that she was the target of a criminal investigation. Gordon has been a member of the New York State Assembly since 2000. According to her own biography, her first foray into civic activism started in 1985 when she founded the Save Our Homes Organization of East New York. For nearly 20 years, Gordon has been involved in her community school board, community board and has been Democratic District Leader of the 40th Assembly District. She also had close ties to disgraced Assemblymember Clarence Norman, political insiders said. But, when asked to testify on his behalf during a recent criminal trial, she invoked the fifth amendment on the witness stand and refused to testify. Gordon was charged with conspiracy, bribe receiving and official misconduct in the summer of 2006. According to published reports, prosecutors were planning not to pursue the charges against Gordon if she agreed to leave office. When it became clear that she was going to run for re-election in 2006, prosecutors filed their indictment. If convicted of the charges, Gordon could face up to 15 years in prison, officials said.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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