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Nelson Castro in the Machine

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The complaint made it seem that Stevenson was addicted to a steady flow of cash. He also became more paranoid, playing the tough guy. “They bring me down, somebody’s going to the cemetery,” he told Gonzalez. One time, he took a cash-filled envelope from Gonzalez, and put a finger to his lips to signal silence.

On February 16, 2013, Gonzalez was given another envelope, this one with $4,500 in cash, for Stevenson.

On April 4, U.S. Attorney Preet ­Bharara called a press conference. After five years, the government had finally gotten an indictment against a politician—it was time to declare victory and move on. Bhahara announced that Assemblyman Stevenson had been indicted on a charge of bribery, along with the four Russians. He referred to—and praised—the role of “Assemblyman 1,” who it quickly became known was Castro, and “CW,” or cooperating witness, who was Sigfredo Gonzalez, according to reports. Stevenson, defiant, refused to resign. He felt he’d been targeted. “I do the right thing,” he tells me, “and then here comes this thing where they wanted to turn me into a criminal, and it makes me wonder, Why attack me? What have I done?

Stevenson, as it happened, was just one of the New York politicians who was caught up in the U.S. Attorney’s political-corruption probes. Two days before, Bharara had announced the separate investigation that netted Malcolm Smith, the former State Senate majority leader, and three other politicians on charges of wire fraud and bribery. “It becomes more and more difficult to avoid the sad conclusion … that a ‘show me the money’ culture in Albany is alive and well,” Bharara said.

At Liberato, Castro recalls the phone call informing him that his political career was over. Castro is, as always, friendly and engaging, but as he talks about his demise, his hands wind around one another, as if turning a crank. Castro loved being an assemblyman, admired and respected in the community—people on the street called to him, “Hey, Nelson,” and it thrilled him. For many members the Assembly is a part-time job, but Castro had invested all his energy. “Five years of my life,” he says, “I did nothing but this.” Just a few months earlier, he’d been sworn in for a third term (again he ran with the government’s okay), and he’d finally received an interesting committee assignment and more funds to hire staff. He was in the midst of renovating his office.

Then his attorney relayed the message that he should prepare his resignation. “It was heartbreaking,” Castro tells me. “My world ended right there.”

There are long, empty stretches in Castro’s days now. “When I wake up, I go move my car most of the time. I go jog. I come back and do my worshipping, and then I think a lot about what I’m going to do for the day.”

Castro lost more than his Assembly seat. Everyone who’d ever spoken to him wondered what he’d recorded them saying. “My relationships are burned in one second. Friends won’t even pick up the phone.”

Still, as the oxtail stew is cleared, Castro suddenly turns buoyant. He confides that just the evening before, he’d attended a meeting at a respected Dominican Democratic club in the Bronx. “Listen,” he asked the assembled, “if I were to run, would you support me?”

Castro said that the response was uniformly positive. But the U.S. Attorney, which still controls his fate, doesn’t want an informant speaking as a candidate—the possible legal complications are too numerous to control. Soon Castro was resigned to staying out of the race.

Still, Castro won’t give up. A few days later, he excitedly tells me he’s running his own candidate for the seat he resigned—Keny Nuñez, a Dominican-born attorney. He’s a stand-in. “He shares my ideals,” says Castro. He’s quietly walking Nunez around to community groups. If he can’t be a candidate, he can at least be a broker. And who knows what the future will hold. “If I run,” he says, “I think I’ll win.”


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