Guyanese NY district leader surrenders on corruption charges
Guyanese Queens district leader, Albert J. Baldeo, a two-time candidate for the City Council there surrendered to federal authorities in New York yesterday morning to face corruption charges, according to reports.
The New York Times said that Baldeo, a Democrat, is accused of using phantom donors to channel illegal campaign contributions to his failed 2010 campaign for the City Council. Federal prosecutors say that this fraudulently increased the amount of matching funds provided by the city to his campaign.
The NYT said that he is being charged with “conspiracy to commit mail fraud, attempted mail fraud, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and obstruction of justice.”
Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The report said that Baldeo, a former magistrate in Guyana, surrendered at the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at Federal Plaza shortly after 9 a.m yesterday. He was expected to be arraigned later yesterday in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
Mary Galligan, who heads the New York office of the F.B.I., said Baldeo, 52, had received six dollars in matching funds for every dollar he reportedly raised.
“These were nothing more than funds drawn from his own bank account, disguised as donations from others,” she said. “When F.B.I. agents began to uncover his deceitful scheme, Mr. Baldeo told straw donors to lie to our agents and in some cases threatened and intimidated others in a vain attempt to derail the F.B.I.’s investigation”, the NYT reported.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in a statement said that “in retaliation for one straw donor’s refusal to lie as instructed by Baldeo: (1) a threatening letter was faxed from Baldeo’s office to the office of this straw donor’s attorney; (2) a co-conspirator of Baldeo’s not charged in the complaint (Co-conspirator-1) made false allegations to a New York City agency that this straw donor was abusing his grandchild; and (3) Co-conspirator-1 made at least one complaint to the New York City Department of Buildings about a property owned by this straw donor.”
Baldeo, an immigration lawyer whose district includes Richmond Hill and Ozone Park – where thousands of Guyanese live – and who also ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2005 and for the State Senate in 2006, could not be reached for comment, the NYT said.
However, the NYT said that his lawyer, Henry E. Mazurek of Clayman & Rosenberg, said in a prepared statement that Baldeo had devoted himself to public service, and had been singled out in unfair treatment.
“The government crusade against Mr. Baldeo is particularly vindictive and discriminatory given that past history reveals that more sinister conduct alleged against establishment candidates often resulted in civil administrative proceedings — and not criminal cases,” he said. “We intend to vindicate Mr. Baldeo’s good name and commendable civil service. We regret, however, that the government will force this well-intentioned community servant to suffer the emotional and financial costs that criminal litigation entails”, the NYT reported.
A district leader, also known as a state committeeperson, is an unpaid, part-time elected official who serves a two-year term. The leader’s duties include endorsing candidates and helping to select the county party’s leader, the NYT said.
The New York Daily News said that Baldeo appeared on the feds’ radar when he submitted filings claiming a campaign war chest of US$46,019 which the report said was littered with bogus contributions.
The Daily News said that Baldeo claimed he had gotten a US$95 donation from a Christopher O’Hearn, who was the campaign treasurer for another city council candidate, Charles Bilal.
O’Hearn later denied giving Baldeo any money.
“Baldeo was so focused on securing a position with the New York City Council that he was willing to break the law to increase his chances,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, according to the report.
The New York Post in its report on the matter said that he sought to turn US$15,000 into US$90,000 by recruiting people to make donations then providing them with money orders or cash to do so, the feds allege.
Baldeo has represented the interests of Guyanese in a variety of areas including the recent controversy surrounding the rezoning of Richmond Hill in New York.
Residents had opposed the move as it would make it difficult to expand homes or build large homes.
Baldeo is the third associate of controversial NY Congressman Gregory Meeks to face legal action in recent days.
The National Legal and Policy Centre noted that on October 10, Guyanese-American businessman Edul Ahmad pleaded guilty to bank and wire fraud as part of a plea bargain related to a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme. In 2007, Ahmad made a US$40,000 “loan” to Rep. Meeks (D-NY) that was not disclosed until 2010 when the FBI reportedly made inquires about Meeks’ finances. Meeks’ omission is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Commitee.
On August 27, New York State Senator Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) was arrested on corruption charges. In March 2011, NLPC exposed a sham charity she founded called The Parent Workshop, to which she steered tens of thousands in taxpayer money.
The NLPC said that Baldeo appears to be especially close to Meeks. The two shared an office from 2006 to 2009. The two have jointly sponsored workshops and programmes on immigration and mortgage foreclosure. Meeks arranged for a Congressional Proclamation in 2009 that called Baldeo a “visionary leader” and thanked him for his community service, NLPC said.