Former gadfly turned political candidate Barry Berman of Garnerville has been charged by Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe with allegedly shaking down an opponent for $3,000.
The DA said Berman told his opponent that he’d drop out of the race for superintendent of the Haverstraw Highway Department for the aforementioned sum. Lohud reported that the offer was made to candidate John Piperato, who then reported it to authorities and cooperated in the investigation.
Piperato, brother of County Clerk Paul Piperato, and Rockland County Highways employee George Wargo are currently in a battle for the position, which has caused an internal rift in the Haverstraw Democratic Party. Town Supervisor Howard Phillips and the majority of the party machine in Haverstraw are solidly behind Wargo, while another faction is fighting for Piperato, a multi-millionaire who owns two trailer parks in town and who has long been one of the top financial donors to the Haverstraw Democratic Party.
John Piperato told the Rockland County Times he has been surprised the town supervisor is so adamantly opposed to his running for the position. County Clerk Paul Piperato explained, “The Haverstraw Democratic Party is going through some growing pains.”
When Berman announced his spoiler candidacy it was considered a boon to the Wargo faction as Berman was likely to divert votes from Piperato. On Monday Berman was arraigned on a four-count complaint charging him with:
Coercion in the first degree, a class “D” felony; grand larceny in the fourth degree a class “E” felony; violation of Election Law Section 17-142 (5) giving consideration for franchise, a felony; and violation of Election Law 17-144 (2) receiving consideration for rranchise, a felony.
District Attorney Zugibe said, “As alleged, the defendant promised to ‘clear the way’ for his political opponent for the right price. Our residents deserve the highest level of integrity from our elected leaders, as well as those individuals seeking public office.”
According to the charges, Berman had collected enough signatures on nominating petitions to be placed on the ballot as a Democratic candidate for the position of Town of Haverstraw Highway Superintendent in a primary election this September.
It is alleged that the defendant approached Piperato and threatened to remain on the ballot as a candidate in the primary unless the victim paid him the $3,000. Piperato made the payment, after which Berman immediately filed paperwork with the Rockland County Board of Elections that resulted in his name being removed from the ballot in the primary.
Berman’s arrest is the result of an investigation conducted by the Rockland County District Attorney’s Special Investigations Unit. The defendant was arraigned today in the Town of Haverstraw Justice Court before the Honorable Peter Branti and released on his own recognizance.
Berman had filled an unexpired term on the town’s Architectural Review Board in 2011 and also had recently served on the Village of Haverstraw’s Quality of Life board. He has been active in the Haverstraw Ambulance Corps, as well.
He is due to return to court on July 25, 2013. He faces up to seven years in state prison, if convicted. Senior Assistant District Attorney Kristen Conklin is prosecuting the case.