And indeed, Stevenson did not resist for long, according to the government. On July 23, 2012, he let the Russians know that he could use a blessing. It was an election year, and though Stevenson had no meaningful opposition, he said, “I need the support and help like everyone else.” Three days later, Gonzalez handed Stevenson a check for $2,000 for Eric Stevenson 2012, from an account called New Age Adult Day Care Inc.—the government looked at that as a bribe. The Russians, encouraged, moved to solidify the relationship. They wanted to name the center in Stevenson’s district after his grandfather.
“They were thinking of a good reputable person, a name they could put on it, for the community,” Stevenson tells me. “It’s good for me politically, and guess what? It gives a credit to my grandfather’s name, and it does good work for our community. Why not?”
The working relationship grew closer, and according to the government, they were now involved in a criminal enterprise, and closeness bred mistrust. Privately, the Russians nursed suspicions. “You know what I can’t understand?” asked Belyansky one day, in a recording made by Gonzalez. “Why [Stevenson] wants his [grand]father’s name on the day care while [Castro] is scared to talk to us. You see the difference?”
It should have been a tip-off, but by then the Russians were focused on the business opportunity. Tsimerman swept away concerns. “I’ll tell you what the difference is: [Castro’s] a rookie … This guy [Stevenson] has been in politics all his life … He knows what he can and cannot do. [Castro’s] afraid of everything.”
Stevenson, meanwhile, told Gonzalez that he believed Tsimerman was recording their conversations—ironically, in a conversation that Gonzalez himself reported to his handlers.
Having accepted money and gotten away with it, Stevenson now wanted more, according to the federal government. Soon, Stevenson seemed to be running his own con. He had figured out the Russians. They weren’t very shrewd. In fact, they were gullible. Stevenson promised to help them obtain permits, even though he had little real influence at the City Department of Buildings or at Con Ed.
“Gonzalez was playing a psych game with me,” Stevenson tells me. “I played a psych game with him.”
Stevenson would lead the Russians to believe that he was controlling events, directing this strange enterprise.
The government claims that Stevenson got in deeper and deeper, insisting on more payments.
On September 7, Stevenson met the Russians at Jake’s Steakhouse, a power spot not far from Yankee Stadium with a $44 filet mignon on the menu and valet parking at the door. At Jake’s, Belyansky tried to give Stevenson an envelope, but Stevenson, who by now acted as if he were being pursued, noticed the steakhouse’s cameras and wouldn’t take it. Outside the restaurant, Belyansky tried again, handing Stevenson the envelope once more. This time Stevenson stuffed it into a pants pocket, then covered it with his shirt. There was $10,000 in cash inside.
On November 6, 2012, Stevenson was reelected with 97 percent of the vote. On December 27, he let Gonzalez know that he needed money for his inauguration party. “I gotta take care of, I got a lot of shit, man … I got to feed the people.”
At about the same time, Stevenson, Gonzalez, and the Russians began to plan on a grander scale. In late December Gonzalez told Stevenson that the Russians wanted legislation to enhance their competitive position, and Stevenson was willing to oblige.
“I’ll help you write the bill … and then you submit the bill in Albany,” said Gonzalez. In fact, the federal government wrote the key points (although other legislators insist a bill of the kind Stevenson proposed, regulating the adult-day-care industry, is long overdue). Later, the bill included a three-year moratorium on opening more adult-day-care centers in the city, except for those already in the business, which would include the Russians.
“We get that bill passed, we’re gonna be good money,” said Gonzalez.
“I’m telling you, it’s done. It’s no problem,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson, of course, knew that this was entirely false, a promise he had very little chance of keeping, even if he wanted to. There was virtually no chance a novice legislator could get the Russians’ bill passed by both houses and signed by the governor—he didn’t even have a State Senate co-sponsor. But the Russians didn’t know that. When the bill was introduced, Belyansky exulted, the value of his stake would double.
Stevenson asked Gonzalez for another payday: “Are Igor and them putting together a nice little package for me, huh?”
“I’ll have these guys bless you. Don’t worry, man,” responded Gonzalez.