By Sarina Trangle
A federal jury acquitted City Council hopeful Albert Baldeo of using fake donors to qualify for matching funds during his failed 2010 campaign, but found the Ozone Park Democrat guilty of tampering with witnesses during the FBI’s investigation, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in Manhattan.
The jury handed down seven obstruction of justice counts in Manhattan Federal Court Monday, Bharara said. He was exonerated on three counts of mail and wire fraud stemming from his 2010 quest for the 28th City Council seat that Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) was elected to represent.
“The fact that Albert Baldeo lost his election does not excuse his corrupt conduct,” Bharara said in a statement. “An impartial federal jury has found that Baldeo lied and instructed others to lie to law enforcement agents investigating the source of his campaign contributions and threatened and intimidated others in order to conceal the truth. These practices have no place in our politics or our justice system.”
Baldeo, 54, turned himself into the FBI in 2012 and resigned from his Democratic district leader post.
He was charged with giving people money orders and cash, which would then be contributed to his campaign in their name. After he was under investigation, prosecutors contended he instructed the so-called straw donors not to cooperate with FBI agents.
Baldeo could not be reached for comment.
His attorney Henry Mazurek said his client planned to appeal what he described as an unusual ruling.
“The jury actually acquitted him of the crime that he was alleged to have obstructed the investigation into,” Mazurek said. “The jury felt that when Mr. Baldeo did approach some of the witnesses, he did so improperly. We strongly disagree and feel that all he did was inform people of their constitutional rights in dealing with law enforcement.”
A press release from a group called People for Baldeo, which did not describe its members and listed its address as the location of Baldeo’s legal practice, called for the convictions to be dismissed.
The memo alleged that FBI agents threatened immigrant and minority donors with deportations and the loss of jobs and pensions until they agreed to testify. The group claims many were given immunity from facing criminal charges in exchange for agreeing to take the stand.
“When they sought Mr. Baldeo’s advice, he told them of their bedrock constitutional rights they had in America … and that they did not have to speak to law enforcement. The FBI retaliated by bringing charges,” the memo read. “We demand that these misconceived convictions against Mr. Baldeo be dismissed, and stand with him in his quest for justice.”
The press release also accused Bharara’s team of targeting Baldeo because of his Guyanese and South Asian ancestry.
“Establishment candidates, who had committed more egregious violations, only had to pay fines in administrative proceedings,” the document read. “These charges are unprecedented in City Council campaigns.”
Bharara’s office declined to comment on the People for Baldeo’s characterization of the case.
Baldeo lost the District 28 Council race in 2005 but came close to ousting former Republican state Sen. Serf Maltese in 2006. He went on to unsuccessfully seek the same Council seat in 2010, which went to Wills, and win the Democratic district leader post.
Each obstruction of justice conviction carries a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars, Bharara’s office said.
Baldeo’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 16.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at [email protected].