District Leader Arrested On Fraud Charge
By ROSS BARKAN
Albert Baldeo, a Democratic district leader and immigration attorney, was arrested Wednesday morning and charged with allegedly using "straw donors" to funnel multiple illegal contributions to his 2010 City Council campaign.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Mary Galligan, the Acting Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the FBI, announced Baldeo was also charged with obstruction of the government's investigation into the alleged scheme.
Baldeo, 52, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, one count of attempting to commit mail fraud, one count of conspiring to obstruct justice and one count of obstruction of justice. Each count carries a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison. This case will be prosecuted by the Dept. of Justice's Public Corruption Unit.
On Tuesday night, Baldeo was supposed to host a forum at La Bella Vita, a catering hall in Ozone Park, to discuss various community issues. A woman at the hall's entrance said the forum had been cancelled due to a "family emergency."
Baldeo and Michael Reich, executive secretary of the Queens Democratic Party, did not respond to calls for comment as of press time.
"As alleged, Queens District Leader Albert Baldeo was so focused on securing a position with the New York City Council that he was willing to break the law to increase his chances - including engaging in a scheme to circumvent campaign finance laws by funneling his own money through 'straw donors,'" Bharara said.
According to the unsealed complaint, one object of the alleged scheme was to increase the amount of matching campaign funds the Baldeo campaign would receive from the City. The probe, which reportedly began in 2010 when Baldeo was campaigning to replace the late Councilman Tom White Jr., found that Baldeo's office manager allegedly provided money orders 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.
As part of this alleged scheme, Baldeo instructed the "straw donors" to sign contribution cards falsely affirming that the contribution was being made from their personal funds and was not being reimbursed in any manner.
The Baldeo campaign sought matching funds for approximately $15,000 in contributions to the campaign, which would have resulted in about $90,000 in public matching money had the New York City Campaign Finance Board not determined that the Baldeo campaign was ineligible for matching funds due to questions about the validity of various contributions.
"Today's announcement from the U.S. Attorney's Office shows that the CFB's diligent oversight and enforcement efforts are effective at stopping those few who try to break the rules and defraud the City," said CFB spokesman Matt Sollars.
Baldeo also allegedly obstructed the investigation by repeatedly instructing certain "straw donors" to provide false information to FBI agents. Known as an ambitious yet mercurial presence in the Richmond Hill and Ozone Park political scene, Baldeo nearly defeated former Republican State Sen. Serph Maltese in 2006. During a failed City Council bid in 2005, Baldeo was charged with pulling a gun on the wife of his opponent, Robby Mahadeo.
The Dept. of Justice allegations are very similar to those brought against the campaign of Comptroller John Liu. Earlier this year, Liu's campaign treasurer was arrested for allegedly participating in a scheme that used "straw donors" to funnel illegal contributions to Liu's campaign.
"This [Albert Baldeo] arrest does not come to me as a surprise," said Richmond Hill civic leader and former City Council candidate Harpreet Toor. "I was expecting something like this to happen."
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.