On January 6, 2012, Castro met with Gonzalez and Igor Tsimerman and Igor Belyansky, two Russians who’d worked together before—in 2010, Allstate sued them, among others, for insurance fraud, a case that was eventually settled. Gonzalez explained that his clients planned to open adult-day-care centers in the Bronx and wanted help securing permits and licenses. Castro’s puppeteers at the D.A.’s office had rehearsed him. The assemblyman referred the Russians to a consulting company, which seemed legitimate. But Castro then dangled the bait. He told the Russians that he expected “special treatment.”
“I believe I know exactly the ‘special treatment,’ ” said Tsimerman, according to the government’s complaint. “We’ll be able to help. We’ll be there for you.”
On January 25, 2012, Castro met Gonzalez in the Bronx—alone this time. Castro, who secretly recorded the conversation, promised that the Russians would get their money’s worth. He said he would secure contracts for them with HMOs. While the Russians had been discreet, talking vaguely of “special treatment,” Gonzalez went right to the point. “I called [Belyansky and said], … ‘Listen, pay [Castro]. Give him a birthday gift,’ ” according to the government’s account. Castro’s birthday is January 25. Two days later, Tsimerman handed Castro three manila envelopes containing a total of $12,000 in cash. “Consider this a contribution,” he said.
After the handoff, Gonzalez took Castro aside—for his troubles, he took $2,000 from the envelope.
Castro told Gonzalez, “Whatever they need legislatively …”
Gonzalez cut him off. “They call me. I call you. That’s it, and it’s how we work,” said Gonzalez, as if to remind Castro of the new chain of command.
Once the authorities heard the recording, Gonzalez was done. He was indicted in a bribery scheme, but the indictment was sealed in exchange for his cooperation, which he hoped would earn him a lenient sentence.
Gonzalez was a much more active government informant than was Castro. The job wasn’t so different from the one he’d been doing before—and he was good at it and seemed to enjoy it.
On April 19, 2012, he met with the Russians at a Bronx steakhouse. They wanted another politician to help speed the opening of another center.
“Let [me] do the legwork,” Gonzalez told them in a conversation he recorded.
A week later, on April 27, Gonzalez met Eric Stevenson, an assemblyman from the 79th Assembly District. Stevenson, tall and barrel-chested, was a first-term legislator, but he’d grown up in Bronx politics and was beloved by some constituents. “He’s done so much to help,” said one community leader. His grandfather, Edward A. Stevenson Sr., was the first Caribbean-born state legislator in New York history. His father had been a district leader. “They brought me up from childhood stuffing doors with political literature,” Stevenson tells me one day by phone. “I got in the seat my grandfather sat in … That was something I wanted to accomplish in my life.” Stevenson had a long history with Gonzalez, and it didn’t give the assemblyman much reason to trust him. At one point, Stevenson refused to support Gonzalez’s bid for office. Explains Stevenson, “He would be angry and not speak to me for a year.”
But Gonzalez could be calm and reassuring when he had to be. “My mother passed away, and I promised her I would run for no more political office,” Stevenson remembered Gonzalez telling him when they reconnected in 2012.
And Stevenson welcomed Gonzalez’s proposal to open an adult-care center in his district, where seniors are starved for services. Gonzalez mentioned that the Russians had worked with Castro to open a center in his district, and that gave Castro one more part to play. At the beginning of May 2012, Stevenson ran into Castro in Albany. “Nelson [Castro] has always been a guy to tell me, ‘Eric, make sure you do this or make sure you do that,’ so I always looked at him as a friend,” Stevenson said.
Castro told Stevenson that, yes, he’d met with Gonzalez about an adult-day-care center. Then, according to a person familiar with the case, he gave Stevenson some more friendly advice. “Stop fucking around with the Russians. You’ll get in trouble.” Castro’s minders in the U.S. Attorney’s office were furious at the apparent warning. What was Castro up to?
But Stevenson, in any case, ignored Castro’s admonition. He promised the Russians he’d help them get a center up and running. At first, he said he’d do it for the “community” and turned down a bribe. Gonzalez was willing to be patient. “What happens in this business Eric,” he said into the recorder, “when the money is good and there is a way you can get it and you start to do it, and then you do it once, and then you notice that … you don’t get caught, then you go and do it again, and you keep doing it again, again, again.” Gonzalez apparently didn’t believe Stevenson could resist for long. He baited the hook. “We took care of” Castro, he said. “They’ll bless you too, brother.”