When Carl E. Heastie leapt from obscurity to the top of New York State’s political power structure this year, he brought with him the potential of a new beginning in Albany. He vowed to bring accountability and integrity back to a statehouse that was reeling from the latest arrest of a lawmaker — the man he was succeeding as the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver.
But an episode from Speaker Heastie’s past that has never received public scrutiny casts new light on his claims of being a reformer.
About 16 years ago, when he had not yet run for public office but had already become entrenched in Bronx Democratic politics, Mr. Heastie was able to hold onto a home that prosecutors said his mother had bought with embezzled money and that a judge had instructed him to sell. Selling it years later brought what appears to be the only significant financial gain of his life.
An unusual string of legal lapses enabled Mr. Heastie to keep the home, an apartment in a three-story rowhouse in the Bronx. Carelessness of those involved in the case could be to blame, or something more questionable could have occurred given the Bronx Democratic Party’s influence on the court system and its long history of back-room deal-making.
In 1998, Mr. Heastie’s mother, Helene, pleaded guilty to writing checks to herself from the nonprofit organization where she had worked. Prosecutors said she used some of the money to buy her family a home in 1995 that cost $165,000. To stay out of jail, she and her son agreed to sell their home, which, by then, they co-owned, and relinquish the proceeds to her former employer.
“If it was purchased with moneys that were stolen, then no one should receive the benefit of that,” Justice Robert H. Straus told the Heasties during a hearing in January 1999 at State Supreme Court in the Bronx.
But Mr. Heastie did, indeed, profit from his mother’s crime.
Despite the judge’s instructions, Mr. Heastie was able to keep the apartment. His mother died at age 60 three weeks after being sentenced, and Mr. Heastie said he stopped trying to sell the property. When he finally did sell it — six years later for nearly $200,000 more than his mother had paid — he used the proceeds to buy a more expensive home.
Mr. Heastie said through a spokesman that his lawyer at the time told him his mother’s death freed him from any obligation to sell the apartment.
But Duncan Levin, a former chief of asset forfeiture for the Manhattan district attorney’s office who reviewed the case for The New York Times, said Mr. Heastie was “sitting on stolen money” that prosecutors should have recovered during his mother’s criminal case or after her death.