Assemblymember Diane Gordon was stripped of her legislative post Tuesday after she was found guilty of peddling her political influence for a custom-made house in Queens.
After two days of deliberation, a jury acquitted Gordon of conspiracy, but convicted her of bribe receiving in the third degree, receiving bribes by members of the legislature, official misconduct, receiving reward for official misconduct and unlawful fees and payments - felonies that will cause her automatic dismissal from the New York State Assembly as well as her post as Democratic District Leader for the 40th Assembly District.
Gordon has been representing residents of East New York, Brownsville, Spring Creek and a small pocket of Canarsie since 2000.
She was arrested back in 2006 on allegations that she agreed to support a developer's bid to build on a $2 million city owned stretch of land on Livonia Avenue between Jerome and Barbay streets if he built a property for her just outside her district in Queens.
The developer, Ranjan Batheja, secretly taped the conversations he had with Gordon as she elaborated in great detail about how exactly she wanted her home to look.
According to published reports, Gordon demanded amenities such as granite kitchen counters, stainless steel appliances, cherry wood cabinets and two Jacuzzis in each bathroom.
According to the elaborate plan Gordon allegedly finagled, Batheja was not only required to build Gordon's 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.
"For over a year Diane Gordon was soliciting benefits from Ranjan Batheja, and it was influencing her actions as a public servant," explained Assistant District Attorney Michael Spanakos of Kings County District Attorney's Rackets Division at the beginning of her trial last month.
Gordon's 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 Gordon's 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.
The tapes did show that Gordon discussed senior citizen housing and a cultural center for the spot Batheja wanted to build on.
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.
Gordon had close ties to disgraced Assemblymember Clarence Norman, political insiders said. But, when asked to testify on his behalf during his recent criminal trial, she invoked the Fifth Amendment on the witness stand and refused to testify.
"This conviction is a result of a joint investigation aimed at rooting out corruption in Brooklyn's government," Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes said in a statement Tuesday. "It continues our commitment to rooting out official corruption of any kind. Over the past four years two Supreme Court Judges and the County Democratic Party leader have gone to prison for their greed and arrogant flouting of the public trust."
"It is especially appalling in Diane Gordon's case that she was seeking to have a house built for her in return for helping a developer get a valuable parcel of city land but she did not want her house built in her own assembly district," Hynes continued. "She did not even want the house built in Brooklyn. She had her eye on a new, gated development in the borough of Queens. Diane Gordon not only violated her oath as a member of the New York State Assembly she flagrantly violated the trust given to her by her constituents."
Calls to Gordon's office were not returned as this paper went to press.
Pending any appeals, Gordon could face up to ten years in prison following her sentencing slated for May 20.
©2008 Community News Group
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