Albert Baldeo, the Ozone Park political activist, former Democratic district leader and candidate for several elective offices, was found not guilty Monday of three counts of campaign-related fraud, but convicted of seven counts of obstructing justice. Baldeo, 54, said he is appealing the convictions.
Baldeo, who was then the Democratic district leader in the 38th Assembly District, was charged in October 2012 for allegations that he used straw donors to fund his campaign for a special election to the City Council in 2010. He previously had run for the Council in 2005 and the state Senate in 2006.
In a statement, Baldeo claims the fact that he was acquitted on the mail and wire fraud charges shows that the government’s case had no merit, and he noted that the jury was deadlocked for two days before the judge “demanded” a unanimous verdict.
“We ... condemn the fact that the hung jury was forced to make a decision ‘one way or the other’ in this case when they specifically reiterated to the Judge that they lacked unanimity, and were deadlocked and had doubts in finding Mr. Baldeo guilty of the obstruction of justice charges,” said a statement issued by People for Baldeo, which is based at his office on Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park.
Baldeo said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had intimidated contributors to the campaign, saying they would be deported if they did not back the government’s claims. Those people then called Baldeo for advice, he said, and when he advised them of their constitutional rights, the government “retaliated” by bringing the obstruction charges. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each of those counts and is set to be sentenced on Dec. 16.
The defendant said the real reason he was charged is that he is an agent of change whose representation of the Indo-Caribbean community in Ozone Park, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park is not welcomed by the political establishment. Many in the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community there have long complained that it is not adequately represented in all levels of government and that the neighborhoods are purposely gerrymandered to prevent the community from gaining political power.
“The fact that Albert Baldeo lost his election does not excuse his corrupt conduct,” Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who prosecuted the case, said in a prepared statement. "With today’s verdict of guilty, 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, and there should be no doubt that this Office will prosecute such conduct while it continues to vigorously investigate and prosecute political corruption in New York City and New York State.”
Bharara did not address the charges on which Baldeo was acquitted.
Born in Guyana and an immigration lawyer by profession, Baldeo came to prominence in Ozone Park and Richmond Hill in his 2005 race for an open City Council seat that was later won by the late Councilman Tom White Jr. He ran for the state Senate in 2006 against former Queens GOP leader and 20-year incumbent Serphin Maltese, losing by just over 300 votes despite Maltese having the support of several local Democratic clubs.
The charges he stood trial for stemmed from his 2010 special election campaign to fill White’s seat after he passed away. Baldeo was defeated in that election by current Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica).
Michael Gannon and Domenick Rafter contributed to this story.