The Sales of Justice

In the dark corridors of Brooklyn politics, a State Supreme Court judgeship sells for $50,000 stuffed in an envelope, and $6,000 in postage stamps

About a week later, Norman called Chesler and complained that the stamps "weren't peeling off one of the rolls." Chesler returned the wheel and bought $3,000 worth of individual stamps. Norman came back to get them. If the stamps were actually used for political mailings, Norman would have been required by law to list them as sizable in-kind contributions from Chesler; a check of campaign records shows that he never has.

Shortly after the stamps were picked up and a couple of weeks before the scheduled September 11 primary, Chesler went to a Norman fundraiser at El Caribe, a large Brooklyn banquet hall. He remembers Feldman approaching him and telling him, "Clarence would like a word with you." He and Feldman walked out of the restaurant and onto a small landing that faced the valet parking lot. Norman said: "We are in need of additional help." Chesler asked again what "the chances" were of Ruditzky becoming a supreme court judge. Feldman said Ruditzky was "too dumb to go to supreme," provoking a hostile exchange with Chesler. When Feldman went back inside, Norman "popped the question, saying he wanted $50,000." He told Chesler the money was required in order for Norman to help him out "with his practice," not because of Ruditzky.**

Norman told him he would "get back" to him "about the circumstances" of payment, and Chesler made it clear he could not make such a large payment at one time. Chesler says that Norman began simultaneously soliciting another $50,000 from Ruditzky himself, telling the judge at one meeting that he had to come up with $50,000 "to hire legal, advertising, and other people" suggested by the party. When Ruditzky told Chesler about Norman's demand, Chesler told him: "You're nuts. You're not giving them a dime." Chesler says he "thought Clarence would take care of my cousin because of everything I was giving," even though it was ostensibly connected to his business.

illustration: Viktor Koen

Soon after the El Caribe conversation, Norman appeared again in Chesler's office to get the first $25,000, which Chesler handed him "wrapped in a large brown envelope without any conversation." Chesler says Norman sent Andrews to pick up the second $25,000, but his recollection of Andrews's role is less certain because he says he doesn't know Andrews well, recalling two prior occasions he thinks he saw him. He is certain it was a black man who said he was Carl and that he was "from Clarence." Other sources have told the Voice that Andrews was allegedly involved in one of the stamp transactions, not a cash pickup. Andrews says he doesn't know Chesler or his company, never heard of stamp wheels, and made no such pickup for Norman. Andrews insists that he has never been questioned by Hynes's office about any of this and cites that as evidence of his innocence. Spitzer's office says it knew nothing about the questions raised about Andrews's possible conduct.

Chesler cannot put a date on any of the payoffs, but bank records reviewed by the Voice reveal a series of withdrawals that Chesler made from Boro Medical between July and November 2001, totaling $43,950. The withdrawals do not appear related to Chesler's salary. The biggest withdrawals—one for $13,000 and one for $5,000—came two days after Ruditzky lost the primary on September 25, the rescheduled date after the postponement of the September 11 election. The second-largest withdrawals followed the judicial convention that nominated Ruditzky (even after his primary loss, to the surprise of most Court Street insiders). The New York Post has reported that prosecutors have found that Norman was making yearly unexplained $50,000 cash deposits in his personal account for five years, starting in the late '90s.

Notations contained in the same small package of documents with the record of Chesler's withdrawals, also reviewed by the Voice, indicate that he made "contributions for future considerations" and that "when Rudy and Partnow were not elected, I asked that the dollars be used for the judgeships." The contributions "I gave Clarence Norman," the notations said, "should be used to help Partnow and Rudy be considered." Partnow, however, was never a Chesler priority and wasn't elevated to the high court until 2002. Chesler's notes also said that "CN"—a reference to Norman—"asked for Rudy to come up and give 50k for services," adding that "since they weren't getting it on their own, they asked for help."

While the notes establish the connection between the payments and the judgeship, so does the timing, as imprecise as Chesler is about it. He says he is sure he didn't make the second "25 large" payment to Norman until after Ruditzky was elected that November. Once Ruditzky won the Democratic nomination at the October convention, his November general election victory was a formality. But Chesler waited until it actually happened.

Chesler began cooperating with Hynes's office after he was indicted in two no-fault car insurance scams by then state attorney general Eliot Spitzer's office. He pled guilty to felonies in 2005 in both cases, appeared in Hynes's grand jury last summer, and is scheduled for sentencing next month. While Chesler's case file has been sealed, the charges against Dr. Naum Vaisman, a Russian neurologist and psychologist who acted as the director of Boro Medical, suggest the nature of Chesler's scheme. Vaisman's indictment said he was "the purported owner" of Boro, but added that the company "was, in reality, owned and controlled by a separately charged individual," an apparent reference to Chesler.

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