The New York Times
U.S. / Region
Lawmaker Found Guilty
By ANDY NEWMAN,
nytimes.com on the Web, April 9, 2008
State Assemblywoman Diane M. Gordon
of Brooklyn was convicted on Tuesday of receiving a bribe for offering to help a
developer acquire a parcel of city-owned land in her district if he would build
her a free house in a gated community in Queens.
The conviction means that Ms. Gordon, 58, a four-term Democrat from East New
York, immediately loses her Assembly seat, which will remain vacant until the
general election in November.
She was acquitted of the top count against her, bribe-receiving in the second
degree, but was convicted of bribe-receiving in the third degree and three other
corruption felonies. She faces up to 10 years in prison at her sentencing
The gated community, in Lindenwood, Queens, just over the Brooklyn border, was
never built, though Ms. Gordon did have a pair of doors worth $600 installed in
her office. And the developer, Ranjan Batheja, never acquired the
Prosecutors said that for much of 2004 and 2005, though, she lobbied to help Mr.
Batheja in his bid to build affordable housing on the parcel, while they moved
forward with plans for the home she called her dream. She told him she
wanted an “impressive” detached house with ample living space and walk-in
Ms. Gordon’s comments were captured on tape by Mr. Batheja, who had been caught
trying to bribe an undercover investigator. Hoping to win lenient
treatment from prosecutors, he had agreed to wear a wire while meeting with her.
Ms. Gordon’s lawyers had argued that she was the victim of entrapment by
prosecutors and said there was no quid pro quo because at one point Ms. Gordon
told Mr. Batheja that she would help him with the redevelopment project
regardless of what happened with her house.
But on tapes played at the trial, Ms. Gordon tells Mr. Batheja, “One hand washes
another,” and while showing him the vacant land, on New Lots Avenue near her
office, she says to his hidden camera, “We got to do something with this land so
I can get, get me a home now.” If it had been built, the house would have
been worth about half a million dollars, Mr. Batheja testified.
In a statement released after the verdict, Rose Gill Hearn, the commissioner of
the city’s Department of Investigation, said, “That Gordon, a state legislator,
seized on a city program to build affordable housing on city-owned land in her
district as her opportunity to sell her office and to obtain her own luxury
housing elsewhere adds a layer of outrageousness to her misconduct.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said of the conviction, “This is an unfortunate
situation, and my heart goes out to Ms. Gordon’s family. However, this has
been proved to be a breach of the public trust.”
Ms. Gordon is the third state lawmaker from Brooklyn to be convicted of
corruption in recent years. Former Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr., once
the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, is serving three to nine years in
prison for extortion and campaign-finance violations. And former
Assemblyman Roger L. Green pleaded guilty in 2004 to falsely billing the state
for travel expenses.
Ms. Gordon, a former schoolteacher with a business degree, declined to comment
on the verdict or on her plans as she left court on $35,000 bail. One of
her lawyers, Bernard Udell, said he was disappointed at the verdict, but added,
“We’re going to do our best to see that the sentence is one of probation or
The lead prosecutor, Michel Spanakos, noted that Ms. Gordon was convicted of
eight out of nine charges, and said he hoped she would get prison time.
The top charges that Ms. Gordon was convicted of were third-degree
bribe-receiving — soliciting or agreeing to accept a benefit in return for
taking action as a public servant — and a similar charge covering state
She was also convicted of official misconduct for trying to obtain the house.
The jurors, who deliberated for three days, would not comment on why they
convicted Ms. Gordon on charges pertaining to the house but acquitted her of
second-degree bribe-receiving, which covers gifts worth $10,000 or more.
Ms. Gordon was elected in 2000 to represent the 40th Assembly district, where
she grew up. It includes parts of East New York, Brownsville and Canarsie,
three working-class communities in eastern Brooklyn.
Mr. Batheja, owner of a company called Stoneridge Homes in Queens, testified at
the three-week trial that he met Ms. Gordon in 2003 and that she said she would
like him to put in new doors in her district office in Brooklyn. Nothing
immediately came of the conversation, but in 2004, Mr. Batheja said, he asked to
meet with Ms. Gordon.
By then, he had been caught trying to bribe an undercover investigator posing as
a city inspector and had mentioned Ms. Gordon to prosecutors, piquing their
interest. Prosecutors would not say what specifically about her caught
In October 2004, Mr. Batheja and Ms. Gordon met at her office. On a tape
of the meeting played at trial, the assemblywoman asks Mr. Batheja what happened
to her doors, then says she would advocate for him to be named redeveloper of a
vacant city-owned parcel in her district. She then asks Mr. Batheja if she
would be able to get a house in a gated community he was building in Lindenwood.
“Let’s work one hand work together,” she tells him. “One hand washes
In subsequent taped conversations, Ms. Gordon tells Mr. Batheja that she wants
to get the house for a dollar, though she later says that a lawyer told her she
had to pay a significant amount for the house, at least on paper, to avoid the
appearance of impropriety.
Shortly after Ms. Gordon’s initial conversations with Mr. Batheja about the
house and the vacant parcel on New Lots Avenue, she began urging city officials
to allow redevelopment of the parcel, which prosecutors valued at $2 million.
In November 2005, she faxed several letters of recommendation to Mr. Batheja —
one from her and two from other local officials — to be included in his
application to be named redeveloper of the site.
Mr. Batheja, meanwhile, was trying to get Ms. Gordon to accept $3,000 in cash
from him that she would then return to him as a down payment on the house to
make the transaction look legitimate.
By then, she had received anonymous letters warning her not to take gifts from
him, and she rebuffed him. But prosecutors said she was too late.
She was indicted in July 2006. Four months later, she was re-elected with
more than 90 percent of the vote.