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Albany corruption

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“So here we go again. This is getting to be something of a habit.”

With those unsettling words U.S. attorney Preet Bharara Thursday opened a press conference disclosing the arrest of a second New York state legislator in two days on corruption charges.

Assemblyman Eric Stevenson is accused of accepting more than $22,000 in bribes from four developers of adult day-care centers in the Bronx to sponsor legislation benefitting them by putting a moratorium on any new adult day-care centers in the city. He allegedly helped the four co-conspirators, who were also charged, obtain building permits and expedite installation of a gas line at one of the centers.

Mr. Stevenson’s alleged bribery scheme was recorded in a wiretap worn by another assemblyman, Nelson L. Castro, who has been working undercover with state and federal prosecutors to gather evidence against his fellow lawmakers after he was named in a sealed perjury indictment by a Bronx County grand jury in 2009. Two of Mr. Stevenson’s co-defendants are charged with bribing Mr. Castro, who will not face any charges in the Stevenson case.

In a non-prosecution agreement on the perjury count, Mr. Castro resigned following the announcement, but his disclosure must have nervous colleagues searching their memories for any possible incriminating conversations they may have had with Mr. Castro over dinner or lunch.

It may also cause remaining lawmakers to be more cautious in what Mr. Bharara described Thursday as a pervasive “show-me-the-money culture in Albany that is alive and well.” The charges against Mr. Stevenson came just two days after Sen. Malcolm A. Smith was accused of bribery and corruption for trying to buy his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot as a Republican candidate in a convoluted scheme that ensnared three other New York city politicians and two officials from a Rockland County village.

They join a lengthy list of disgraced New York political figures who have abused the public trust. New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin puts at 35 the number of state officials arrested in the past decade due to the arrogance exhibited by Assemblyman Stevenson, who was not worried about getting caught with the possibility of a light sentence if he did.

“Bottom line,” he said, “if half of the people up here in Albany was ever caught for what they do, they would probably be in the same place” as former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who was convicted in a pay-to-play scheme involving state pension funds. In another conversation, Assemblyman Stevenson, referring to another convicted official, said, “They got him in the easiest penitentiary you could ever be in.”

The bribery schemes, as Mr. Bharara said, give New Yorkers reason to wonder how many other bills, budget allocations or other government actions were born out of the greed of sleazy politicians putting their interests above those they were elected to serve.

In a broad indictment of the entire Legislature, the prosecutor had some stinging criticism of lawmakers for their “deafening silence” in not speaking up when they learned of “suspicious and potentially criminal activity” in the halls of the Capitol.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has called on Mr. Stevenson to resign, as indeed he should. He has lost public trust.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bharara said that “there continues to be, even after a parade of politicians have been hauled off to prison, a lack of transparency, a lack of self-disclosure, a lack of self-policing, a lack of will and a failure of leadership” as he called for a “change in the culture.”

Until that happens, New Yorkers can only wonder when they will hear again Mr. Bharara’s sad lament, “Here we go again.”

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