June 16, 2003 Monday
Judge Shaken Down, Brooklyn's D.A. Told
BYLINE: By JACK NEWFIELD and COLIN MINER
The Brooklyn Democratic Party extorted money from a judge running for re-election last year, that judge has told Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in what investigators are calling a breakthrough in his probe into political corruption.
In a dramatic meeting with prosecutors, Karen Yellen - who lost her bid for a borough-wide civil court seat - described being shaken down by party boss Clarence Norman and one of his chief aides, Jeffrey Feldman, the executive director of the Kings County Democratic County Committee, according to sources close to the probe.
Neither Mr. Feldman nor Mr. Norman returned a call seeking comment. Last week, in an interview with The New York Sun, Mr. Norman said he had done nothing wrong. He was not asked about Ms. Yellen in that interview.
Sources say Ms. Yellen told prosecutors Messrs. Feldman and Norman forced her to hire Ernie Lendler's Manhattan-based Branford Communications - a political printing and consulting company - and campaign consultant William Boone III as a quid pro quo for the organization's endorsement and having her name included on palm cards that were distributed on the day of primary elections.
Two other campaign consultants who worked for Judge Yellen on the campaign have backed up her story in meetings with prosecutors, adding details of how the judge was victimized.
Mr. Hynes is overseeing a grand jury hearing evidence of the buying of judgeships and the selling of justice in the Brooklyn courts. The probe is focusing on the buying and selling of endorsements by the Brooklyn Democrats.
Ms. Yellen served on the bench for 10 years and finished third in the 2002 primary, losing out to reformer Margarita Lopez Torres and independent Delores Thomas. Another of the judicial seats last year went to Robin Garson, who was tapped by Mr. Norman to run unopposed. She is the wife of a recently indicted judge, Gerald Garson.
Ms. Yellen and her consultants have told prosecutors the campaign was forced to pay Mr. Boone $9,000, ostensibly for get-out-the-vote operations in predominantly-black central Brooklyn, even though her base of support was in the predominantly Jewish districts of southern Brooklyn. The campaign gave Boone a personal check since he does not have a consulting company. Investigators are tracing what happened to these funds.
Mr. Boone was a district leader out of Mr. Norman's Thurgood Marshall Club in Crown Heights until defeated in what was an embarrassment to the Brooklyn machine. He is now treasurer of the Brooklyn Democratic organization.
Campaign experts knew the black turnout in Central Brooklyn would be negligible because Carl McCall - who was running for governor - did not have an opponent in the primary because Andrew Cuomo withdrew.
Ms. Yellen ended up receiving almost no votes in the districts Mr. Boone was paid to deliver.
One of the consultants on the Yellen campaign told The New York Sun "Boone did zero work for the $9,000. He was supposed to provide Election Day workers but didn't. He never spoke in one campaign meeting. All he did was fax us a one-page proposal for $16,100 that was a joke."
Mr. Boone did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
A copy of Mr. Boone's proposal has been obtained by the Sun. The markings on the fax indicate it was sent to the Yellen campaign from the office of state Senator Carl Andrews, a former political consultant closely tied to Mr. Norman.
It is illegal to do campaign work out of a legislative office. Senator Andrews did not return calls seeking comment.
Ms. Yellen and two of the campaign consultants have told prosecutors that Mr. Norman and Mr. Feldman made it clear that it would be a "deal breaker" if they didn't hire Mr. Boone and Mr. Lendler.
Scott Levinson of the Advance Group, who worked as a consultant to the Yellen Campaign, told the Sun "the way Norman treated Karen, an incumbent Brooklyn judge, wasn't right and wasn't fair."
Filings with the city's Board of Elections indicate that Ms. Yellen's campaign paid about $8,000 to Mr. Lendler's printing company as well as about $15,000 to local political clubs tied to Mr. Norman, as well as the $9,000 to Mr. Boone.
Mr. Lendler, who previously told the Sun he never works on judicial campaigns "because there's no money in them," did not return a call seeking a comment on the payment from Ms. Yellen's judicial campaign.
The former judge, who grew up in Flatbush and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School and Brooklyn College before getting her law degree from Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University, served on the Mayor's Task Force on Rape in the 1970s and served two terms as the president of the Board of Judges of the Civil Court of the City of New York.
Brooklyn prosecutors are also examining the election of Judge Robin Garson the same year. She borrowed and raised more than $50,000 for an uncontested election in which Mr. Norman made sure she didn't have an opponent.
Her filings indicate she borrowed $10,000 from family members and friends.
The filings also disclose that much of the money was paid to the small-circle of printers and consultants favored by Mr. Norman.
According to the criminal complaint filed against her husband - who has since been indicted on corruption charges - Gerald Garson asked that one of the bribes delivered to him be paid in the form of a check to his wife so she could repay a debt she owed.
Judge Garson did not respond to a call left at her chambers.