A developer involved in the Building Department corruption scandal continued his testimony Tuesday, offering details into schemes allegedly perpetrated by department and town officials and a pair of former Nassau County legislators.
Taking the stand once again in the courtroom of Judge Alan Honoroff in , Ranjan Batheja recalled the events of his bids to develop a number of sites in the New Castle section of Westbury.
According to the , developers submitted plans to a North Hempstead community development agency which would select bids for the project. Sitting on that committee were North Hempstead Community Development Executive Director Neville Mullings and North Hempstead Building Commissioner David Wasserman, who also served as CDA chairman and a member of the voting board which would determine the developer.
Former legislator Patrick Williams had allegedly prepared a bid for the site using a shell company in his sister’s name to develop the property and then tried to “coerce another developer to ‘buy’ (his) ‘exclusive rights’ to’ a bank’s tenancy for which he worked as a consultant. Following the awarding of three of the six sites in 2004, Batheja reportedly reached out to former Nassau Legislator Roger Corbin about resubmitting his proposal.
According to Batheja’s testimony, during a meeting on April 5, 2004, Wasserman was intent on having a bank or supermarket on the site of “at least” 8,500-9,000 sq. ft and “at least 30 rental apartments.” Several other developers were also at the meeting according to Batheja and he was “provided” with a number for Citi National Bank of New Jersey.
Batheja stated that in a conversation with Corbin, the legislator said that he was the only one who could bring Citi National into Nassau and showed Batheja plans and financing letters and that he would sell him the site for the bank.
“He wanted $50,000 up front,” Batheja said, adding that Corbin would transfer his rights to the project for $300,000 to Batheja’s firm of Stoneridge Homes.
“I told him it’s outrageous to pay $300,000 for rights to a bank whose rent would only be $34,000 a year,” Batheja said.
At a later date Batheja said that he met with Corbin at the Nagasaki restaurant in Hempstead and the “down payment” was reduced to $180,000. He then went with Corbin and Mullings at the “Stop 1” supermarket on Prospect Avenue with Corbin telling Batheja to cease doing business with his client White Rose Markets and to do business with Stop 1 instead.
“Raj just follow my direction, it will seal the deal for you,” Corbin said according to Batheja, adding that he was asked to make changes to a mixed use building including the addition of balconies and to convert them to condos in his second bid proposal.
A letter presented in court stated that there was a “good possibility” that the Town of North Hempstead CDA would lease one of the spaces. The letter also read that current North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Vivianna Russell – then involved with the CDA – would be a tenant in one of the apartments and assist with marketing them to local business owners.
On May 10, 2004, Batheja made another presentation to the CDA board. When he stated at the meeting that he was in discussions with White Rose markets Mullings “jumped up” and said “that’s not going to happen,” and the supermarket would be Stop 1.
Mullings also allegedly “advised” Batheja on prices for the development and “where I should be going” with another presentation to the CDA board where other developers and town board members would be present.
Batheja’s firm was awarded the project but fell into default on its construction loans with construction on the sites only now beginning again after a 4 year hiatus. Wasserman, Corbin, Williams and Mullings are facing numerous counts of grand larceny, conspiracy, bribery, fraud and falsifying records.
The trial is expected to drag on for at least the next 3 months.