How My Ex-hubby Paid to Be Judge Former Wife Claims Cash & Bribery 'Package Deal'
By Nancy KatzNew York Daily News
January 23. 2007
Tessa Abrams Mason says her ex-husband, Reynold Mason, was expected to come up with cash for all comers.
Ex-Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Reynold Mason found out early, his ex-wife says, that running for judge meant making big payoffs to pols and hiring people he was told to.
In a shocking new twist in the exploding "judgeships for sale" scandal, the ex-wife of a disgraced Brooklyn Supreme Court judge has revealed details of a systematic payoff scheme that bought her husband his seat on the bench.
Tessa Abrams Mason alleges the couple spent nearly $100,000 - some of it bribe money - to boost the legal career of her then-husband, former Supreme Court Justice Reynold Mason.
In a series of exclusive interviews, Abrams Mason implicated well-known Brooklyn Democrats in the deals - including former state Sen. Carl Andrews, who has close ties to Gov. Spitzer.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who has been probing court corruption, was not familiar with Abrams Mason's story, said spokesman Jerry Schmetterer.
But Schmetterer added, "Based on the scope of our investigation, we take any allegations about corruption seriously."
The startling accounts were given to the Daily News over the past six months in dozens of interviews and in an explosive unpublished memoir.
Although other jurists have been caught up in the ever-widening probe, it is the details provided by Abrams Mason that make her story so compelling.
She tells how:
* Her husband had to buy a package deal of payoffs to secure the party's backing.
* Andrews allegedly took a $5,000 payoff in an
envelope at Mason's Brooklyn law office - for which no services were received.
* Mason had to hire a campaign manager and an election lawyer at the direction of the local party.
* Once elected, he had to hire a law clerk chosen by the party.
"They didn't care if Mason was competent," his ex-wife, 46, told The News. "All they cared about was [that] Mason had a deep pocket and could raise funds and throw around money without asking questions."
Caught dipping into escrow
Her ex-husband was stripped of his post in 2003 after she told the state Commission on Judicial Conduct that he dipped into an client escrow account to fund the campaign - an accusation that the commission substantiated.
Mason, 57, now a real estate agent in Georgia, has been ducking court-ordered child support payments for years. Recently a New York state judge threatened him with jail if he didn't show up to explain why he hasn't paid up the $200,000 he owed.
Reached by telephone last week, Mason vehemently denied the charges of his former spouse, whom he calls "a bitter woman."
"I never paid a bribe to anyone," he said. "What they do is meet with you [and say],
'If you want our help, you gotta do XYZ.' That's all they ever said."
"You work with them," Mason added. "You want to win. You bite the bullet and do what you have to do."
But his ex-wife's startling account of back-door deals and pay-for-play demands seems to mirror much of what Hynes has uncovered in a corruption probe now in its sixth year.
Hynes' work led to the toppling of once-powerful Democratic boss Clarence Norman and the indictment of three state Supreme Court justices and other elected officials.
Norman's lawyer said his client was focused on his next trial, due to get under-way today with jury selection. "Any other allegations are simply a scurrilous attempt to poison a jury pool," said attorney Edward Wilford.
First race an eye-opener
In 1994, Mason was a 46-year-old real estate lawyer just starting to make a name for himself in Brooklyn's West Indian community when he decided to run for the bench.
A native of Grenada, he had married Abrams Mason, who worked as his office manager and paralegal, a year earlier. The couple have three children.
Though Mason had dabbled in local politics, his entry into the judicial race proved an eye-opener for him and his new bride. In heavily Democratic Brooklyn, the primary was the real election and he faced stiff opposition.
Friends led him to pols with close ties to Norman. One of the first stops was a meeting with local Democratic district leader Marietta Small.
Small, who later held a top patronage post in Brooklyn Surrogate's Court, taught the couple the facts of life about judicial politics, Abrams Mason said.
"Small was not interested in money, but influence and power," she said. "Everyone else was interested in payoffs."
To get Norman's backing, Mason was told, he would have to take what his wife described as "the package deal."
That included a campaign manager selected by the bosses who would be paid $15,000, an election lawyer who would get $10,000 and inherit Mason's cases and clients if he was elected, and a law clerk handpicked by Small once he got on the bench.
"At one meeting, Mason was told you have to pay Andrews $5,000 cash and make donations to other candidates," his ex-wife said. "Whatever money politicians asked for, Mason had to have it right then and there. We ended up spending nearly $100,000."
Not all of it was reported by Mason's campaign, she added. Campaign finance records reviewed by The News show Mason's campaign spent $67,895.04.
But other expenditures, like the alleged payment to Andrews, "weren't accounted for in campaign records," she said.
At the time, Andrews was an active Democratic leader in Brooklyn and a close confidant of Norman. He was later elected to the state Senate, worked for Spitzer in the attorney general's office, but lost a bid for Congress despite Spitzer's backing.
Andrews was recently hired by Spitzer to work in his Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The Village Voice recently identified Andrews as the bagman for a bribe paid to Norman in 2001 to get another judge, Howard Ruditzky, a Supreme Court seat.
Andrews 'insulted' by query
Andrews, 50, did not return repeated calls for comment. But earlier, when asked about the Ruditzky allegation, he replied, "I'm insulted by the question and the implications behind that question. I guess my only crime is being Clarence Norman's friend. Guilt by association."
Yet Abrams Mason says she clearly recalls the day when Andrews showed up at Mason's law office on Glenwood Road in East Flatbush to pick up his cash.
"Mason was annoyed. He said, 'Why do we have to pay this guy $5,000? What is he going to do for me?'"
As it turned out, nothing. She recalled, "Mason took money out of the right-hand drawer of his desk, where we keep our cash and records. He put the $5,000 in an envelope and handed it to him. [Andrews] put it in his jacket pocket. He didn't stick around. That was it!"
"Mason and I thought he took the money to go neutral, because he did nothing. ... He didn't do anything for Mason's opponent either."
"We never saw him again, not even at a fund-raiser," she said.
In a telephone interview, Small also denied any wrongdoing.
"I have no knowledge of anyone taking any bribes," she said. "I would not ever be a part of that. I would never be a part of anything like that. That's the God's honest truth."
Abrams Mason insists thousands in cash went to politically connected operatives who supposedly spent it on such things as neighborhood get-out-the-vote campaigns.
Some of it went to district leaders who controlled large blocs of votes at local housing projects, where "the voters were told who to vote for, and this was a plus."
The support of Norman's army of regulars helped Mason eke out a win in the Civil Court primary by 145 votes.
By the time of his 1996 election to the state Supreme Court, the couple had split. But he would tell her later he had to pay the Democrats even more for that race.
With his expenses mounting, Mason eventually dipped into the client escrow account - a no-no that was exposed by his ex-wife.
The alleged wrongdoing - much of it also detailed in her unpublished memoir, "The Judge's Wife and the Political Mafia" - are unlikely to result in new criminal charges because the statute of limitations has run out.
She decided to go public because the court battle over financial support for their three children has dragged on.
When she could no longer afford a lawyer, she drew up legal papers herself. She eventually won a contempt order against him, demonstrating that of all his political foes, Mason's ex-wife has been the most formidable.
Judge Scandal Could Tarnish Spitzer Shine Anti-corrupt Gov Hiring Pol Tied to Norman?
By Lisa L. Colangelo, Nancie L. Katz and Adam LisbergNew York Daily News January 15, 2007
Gov. Spitzer took office two weeks ago with a corruption-busting promise - but yesterday he welcomed into his inner circle a man who has been named in connection with an exploding Brooklyn bribery scandal.
Former state Sen. Carl Andrews was one of several insiders who were invited into Spitzer's midtown offices following a news conference where the governor ducked a question about the corruption probe.
"With respect for the alleged improprieties that have been the subject of investigation in Brooklyn, obviously those cases continue and they proceed," Spitzer said.
Andrews is reportedly being considered for a high-ranking post in the Spitzer administration - and while the governor said little, his exit with the well-connected Andrews seemed to show Spitzer was not publicly distancing himself from him.
The Village Voice claimed in a story published Saturday that Andrews picked up a bribe in 2001 - either $25,000 in cash or $3,000 in postage stamps that could be used in a campaign - from a sex therapist named Norman Chesler, who was hoping to get his cousin, Civil Court Judge Howard Ruditzky, a seat on the state Supreme Court.
Andrews allegedly delivered it to his longtime confidant Clarence Norman, a corrupt Democratic Party boss who could be indicted for allegedly taking as much as $70,000 in bribes to put Ruditzky on the bench, The Voice reported.
Andrews told the Daily News yesterday he has never met Chesler - and when asked point-blank about collecting a bribe, said it was beneath his dignity to answer.
"I'm insulted by the question and the implications behind that question," he said. "I guess my only crime is being Clarence Norman's friend. Guilt by association."
Law enforcement sources told The News yesterday that Andrews is not a target in the long-running probe of whether Brooklyn judges have bought their way onto the bench.
Andrews held a community relations job under Spitzer when he was state attorney general. Andrews later served as a Brooklyn state senator and ran unsuccessfully for Congress last fall.
Ruditzky, Chesler and Norman declined to comment. Norman's lawyer Edward Wilford said he has not been contacted by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes about the allegations.
Prosecutors would not file any new charges against Norman until after his Jan. 23 trial on extortion charges, a law enforcement source said.
Spitzer's office did not respond to a request for comment.
With Nicole Bode and Tamer El-Ghobashy
DA: Norman Sold Judgeship for 50g - & 6g in Stamps
By Nancie L. Katz and Rich SchapiroNew York Daily NewsJanuary 14, 2007
Brooklyn prosecutors are seeking to indict deposed Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Clarence Norman for allegedly selling a judgeship for at least $50,000 in cash and $6,000 in postage stamps, it was reported yesterday.
The alleged corruption, detailed by The Village Voice, has the potential to shake the Brooklyn political establishment and push the Legislature to overhaul how state Supreme Court judges are selected.
Norman - already sentenced to two to six years behind bars for unrelated felony campaign corruption - will be indicted by a grand jury for allegedly demanding payoffs to elevate former Civil Court Judge Howard Ruditzky to the state Supreme Court, The Voice says.
Sources told the Daily News that Ruditzky was granted immunity and recently testified before a grand jury, where he revealed he paid $70,000 for the judgeship.
"A sitting judge told a grand jury that he paid Clarence Norman $70,000 for the nomination," one of the sources said.
The Voice said it had pinpointed only $56,000 in payments.
District Attorney Charles Hynes' case against Norman, according to The Voice, revolves around the testimony of Ruditzky and three other witnesses: Jeff Feldman, the executive director of the Brooklyn Democratic Party; ex-Supreme Court Justice Michael Garson; and Ruditzky's millionaire cousin, an overweight sex therapist named Norman Chesler.
It was Chesler who was at the center of the alleged payoffs, according to The Voice.
In 2001, Chesler began helping Ruditzky in his bid to get reelected to the Civil Court. According to The Voice, Ruditzky wasn't planning to serve if reelected because Norman allegedly had promised to elevate him to the Supreme Court after the balloting.
Norman had the ability to promote Ruditzky because Supreme Court nominees are selected by judicial conventions, a system that allows a Democratic leader in a Democratic county to handpick jurists.
Norman was planning to promote Ruditzky and then select his replacement for Civil Court without having to run that candidate in a primary, The Voice reports.
"If Ruditzky wins reelection, we'll elevate him," Norman told Chesler, according to The Voice.
But that plan crumbled when Ruditzky lost. In stepped Chesler, who, according to The Voice, was allegedly told by Norman, "We could use money for activities in my community."
Chesler's first alleged payment to Norman came in the form of postage stamps, two $3,000 rolls he bought at a post office, The Voice reported.
Chesler, who refers to Ruditzky as "Rudy," also allegedly gave Norman $50,000 - delivering the first half "wrapped in a large brown envelope," according to The Voice.
Bank records reviewed by The Voice reveal a series of withdrawals totaling $43,950 that Chesler made from his company between July and November 2001. Notations contained with the record of the withdrawals, also reviewed by The Voice, said that "CN 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."
Chesler began cooperating with Hynes' office after being indicted in a car insurance scam, The Voice says.
Ruditzky, Chesler and Norman's lawyer could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Sources told The News last week that Ruditzky's grand jury testimony is being reviewed by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. Commission administrator Robert Tembekjian declined to comment last week.
David Bookstaver, spokesman for the New York State Office of Court Administration, told The News on Friday that "it would be inappropriate to comment about an alleged ongoing investigation."
Grand jury testimony is secret, and when The News asked Hynes on Dec. 21 about Ruditzky appearing before the panel, Hynes declared it was "untrue." Hynes' spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, declined to comment Friday on whether the office knew about the alleged bribe.
The author of The Voice article, Wayne Barrett, revealed that his mentor, the late Jack Newfield, had been investigating Brooklyn courts before his death in 2004.
According to The Voice, Newfield had scrawled Ruditzky's name into a notebook that contained his last interview.
More than 30 years have passed since Newfield wrote in 1972, "It is common belief on the streets of this city that judgeships are bought and sold by politicians for cash, and that once on the bench, some judges continue to be up for sale - or at least for rent."