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The state inspector general is investigating how a South Asian group acquired state land at Creedmoor at a deep discount in a deal brokered by then-state Sen. Frank Padavan and state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said this week.
Avella said investigators from the inspector general’s office met with him last week about the deal, but could not disclose the contents of the conversation.
The Indian Cultural and Community Center, which did not respond to repeated e-mail requests for comment, acquired about 4.5 acres of Creedmoor land in 2009 for $1.8 million, far below the actual market value of $7.3 million.
The center is closely aligned with the Floral Park-based St. Gregorios Malankara Orthodox Church, which the center’s officers and board members list as their mailing address, according to state nonprofit records.
The church, which has about 100 members, is one of 60 parishes operated by the American Diocese of the Indian Orthodox Church.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is also reportedly looking into the deal, according to the New York Post, although Schneiderman’s office would not confirm that a probe is ongoing.
Avella did say he asked Schneiderman to scrutinize the deal, but said he has not gotten an answer as to whether the attorney general’s office followed through on his suggestion.
The center originally said it planned to build just a cultural center, but recently told community leaders and Avella that it wanted additional land so it could build two nine-story apartment buildings, which civic activists said they opposed because it was out of character with the community.
Clark asked Avella to co-sponsor legislation for additional parcels, but the senator said he was “uncomfortable” with the plan because he said the Indian center representatives misled him about their plans and he did not understand how the organization could come up with financing since it operated at a $20,000 loss in 2009.
Avella said the group’s 2009 purchase raised red flags in his mind and that Clark was “pressuring me to the point of threatening” in trying to get him to sponsor new legislation.
State Board of Elections records showed Koshy Thomas, head of the Indian center, contributed $875 to Padavan’s campaigns and $601 to Clark’s campaign account since 2000.
“Clearly, [the deal] was unethical behavior,” Avella said. “Whether or not it’s criminal depends on the investigation. To me, this is not how government should operate.”
Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) agreed to be Clark’s co-sponsor, but the bill died in the legislative session that just ended over concerns about the nature of the measure.
At Community Board 13’s meeting in June, CB 13 member Seymour Finkelstein said he was concerned about the deal.
“I know if my house was worth $7.8 million, I wouldn’t sell it for $1.8 [million],” he told Clark.
Clark said at the CB 13 meeting she was asked by Padavan, who was a state senator at the time in 2009, to carry the bill in the Assembly.
“Creedmoor has been working for years to sell off that land,” she said. “To my knowledge, it was a cultural center.”
Clark said there was nothing in the 2009 bill “about housing.
“I knew nothing about any buildings,” she said, claiming she first heard about those plans during a recent meeting the center’s leaders had with her, Avella and Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck).
Clark claimed Thomas agreed not to build the apartment buildings at the site, calling it a “misunderstanding,” although Thomas earlier told TimesLedger Newspapers that the group did want the nine-story buildings at Creedmoor.
The assemblywoman said she told Thomas she was “disappointed” about his keeping the community in the dark about the project.
Avella accused Clark of being disingenuous with the community.
“She basically, in my opinion, lied to the community board,” he said.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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