By Sadef Ali Kully
A former Queens district leader and City Council candidate, Albert Baldeo was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to 18 months in prison for tampering with witnesses during the FBI’s investigation of his campaign finances.
Last year Baldeo, 54, was convicted of six counts of obstruction of justice, each relating to a separate instances of witness tampering, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice in Manhattan federal court after a two-week trial. He was found not guilty of three fraud-related counts. His sentencing date was scheduled for Dec. 16, but due to his having heart-related medical issues, it was rescheduled for this past Monday.
In addition to his prison term, U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty also imposed two years of supervised release, including three months on home confinement. He was also ordered to pay a $15,000 fine.
“Albert Baldeo tried through intimidation and harassment to obstruct the government’s investigation of his alleged fraudulent campaign practices. The obstruction of justice by a political official has no place in our politics, but it shows how officials who see fit to hold themselves above the rules will inevitably see fit to hold themselves above the law, and finish not fit to hold office. This has been all too common in New York City and New York state,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Baldeo, an Ozone Park Democrat, ran for City Council in 2010 for the seat now occupied by Ruben Wills, who was indicted for the second time this week.
“Today’s sentence is a fitting punishment for Baldeo’s crimes and a reminder that this office and its law enforcement partners will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute political corruption,” Bharara said.
In 2010, Baldeo, then a Queens Democratic district leader and an attorney, participated in a scheme to defraud the city that involved the funneling of multiple illegal campaign contributions to his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for City Council, according to court documents. On various occasions, Baldeo, and in at least one instance one of Baldeo’s employees, provided money orders or cash to individuals to contribute to the campaign in their own names, even though Baldeo supplied the funds and these individuals did not contribute any of their own money or reimburse him for these donations.
As part of this scheme, Guyana-born Baldeo gave each donor, commonly referred to as a “straw donor,” a campaign contribution card in which he or she wrote his or her name, address, employment information, and the amount of money purportedly donated to the Baldeo campaign. Baldeo instructed the straw donors to sign the contribution cards, falsely affirming that the contribution was being made from their personal funds and was not being reimbursed in any manner, the court papers said.
“The bedrock of the prosecution’s case is based solely on a handful of contradictory witnesses, all of whom were coerced to change their statements by the government in return for non-prosecution agreements,” a statement released by Baldeo’s friends and family support group said Tuesday. “ There is not a scintilla of independent or reliable evidence against Mr. Baldeo on these misconceived charges.”.
The court papers said city Campaign Finance Board relied upon the information contained in the fraudulent contribution forms to determine whether to release public matching campaign funds to Baldeo’s 2010 campaign. As part of this scheme, Baldeo instructed several of these straw donors to sign affidavits, at least one of which was actually provided to the CFB in connection with Baldeo’s efforts to obtain matching funds.
After learning of the FBI’s investigation, prosecutors said Baldeo obstructed the investigation by repeatedly instructing certain straw donors to provide false information or not cooperate, with the FBI agents who were looking at contributions to his campaign.
“The jury dismissed the foundational basis of my charge and I will be appealing this case,” Baldeo, who is out on bail, said in a phone interview. “We believe there is a good chance to succeed with the appeal.”
He added, “Unfortunately the establishment is going after me. There are many more who have done much worse and never been prosecuted.”
Baldeo also ran for the state Senate in 2006 and lost the election by a small margin to former Republican Sen. Serphin Maltese. His Richmond Hill law practice has served small businesses in housing, real estate, public benefits, and corporate immigration law for the last 25 years.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4546.