Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Indictment Against Jeffrey Feldman



Brooklyn, November 18, 2003 -- Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes today announced the indictment of Kings County Democratic County Committee (KCDCC) Chairman Clarence Norman and Jeffrey Feldman, Executive Director of the KCDCC, for coercion by extortion of two candidates for county-wide Civil Court judgeships in 2002. They are being charged with multiple counts of extortion, Grand Larceny, Attempted Grand Larceny and Conspiracy.

In May 2002, district leaders of the Kings County Democratic party met at the Park Plaza Restaurant (with Norman and Feldman present) and voted endorsements for the three county-wide judicial seats for the Civil Court of the City of New York subject to election in 2002. The district leaders endorsed the re-election of Civil Court Judges Margaret Cammer and Karen Yellen, and the candidacy of Housing Court Judge Marcia Sikowitz. Soon after, Judge Cammer decided to withdraw from the race, and she was replaced as endorsee by Robin Garson.

The indictment charges that in the summer of 2002, there were at least three meetings in which the candidates, along with some of their supporters and consultants, met with Norman and Feldman at their KCDCC offices to discuss their campaigns. Norman and Feldman set forth a proposal for a joint campaign for the three candidates. An ambitious program of newspaper ads, mailings, lit. drops, palm cards, and TV ads were discussed, with an estimated price tag of $100,000 to $150,000 per campaign. Most of the negotiation was between Norman and Feldman on one hand and Yellen’s consultants from The Advance Group on the other. Ultimately, the KCDCC made a non-negotiable demand of three joint mailings via Branford Communications.

Although the Advance Group felt it could find a cheaper alternative to Branford, the Yellen campaign agreed to the proposal after Norman allegedly stated that any candidate that did not agree to the Branford mailings would be “dumped” or functionally disendorsed and otherwise not supported by his Party. The candidates testified that they felt that the Party’s endorsement was very valuable as they had access to a ready workforce, they could provide legal assistance, and they could use the club’s workforce to distribute literature and palm cards on Primary Day, which was all crucial to their campaigns.

The agreement by the Yellen campaign to the joint mailings via Branford, upon pain of being “dumped” by the Party, gives rise to the first set of charges against Norman and Feldman: Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (attempt to extort more than $50,000) and Attempted Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (attempt to steal by extortion).

Of the three joint mailings agreed to, only one actually took place. That was in August 2002. The plan for the two additional joint mailings fell apart because Robin Garson successfully challenged the ballot petitions of her opponent (and thus, was assured the nomination for one of the three seats), and Sikowitz simply ran out of money. The Yellen campaign paid Branford approximately $7,600 for the one mailing. This payment, resulting from the agreement coerced by Norman and Feldman, is the basis for the second set of charges against Norman and Feldman: Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (extortion of more than $3,000), Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (larceny by extortion), and Coercion in the Second Degree (a misdemeanor coerced under threat of harm to business, calling, career, etc.).

The second part of this case concerns Norman and Feldman’s demands that Yellen and Sikowitz fund street operations in central Brooklyn (Norman’s assembly district and adjacent ones), budgeted for $16,000. This expense did not make sense to either Yellen or Sikowitz, who preferred to focus the use of their limited resources in other parts of Brooklyn. But here, Sikowitz said she felt bullied. Norman allegedly threatened that the Party would not do anything on Primary Day for the candidate who did not agree. Sikowitz agreed, but ultimately never actually paid the money because she simply did not have it. The Yellen campaign, however, after stalling, paid $9,000 in a check payable to William Boone (a political operative of Clarence Norman Jr.), after Feldman reiterated the demand and threat in early September, on the eve of the Primary.

The “central Brooklyn” proposal is the basis for the third and fourth set of charges against Norman and Feldman: as to the Yellen campaign, Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, and Coercion in the Second Degree; and as to the Sikowitz campaign, Attempted Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Attempted Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, and Attempted Coercion in the Second Degree.

Sikowitz and Yellen lost the Primary on September 10, 2002, to their opponents, Civil Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres and Housing Court Judge Delores Thomas.

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