Friday, March 30, 2012

Local fallout regarding Yonkers trial: newspaper laments corruption, columnist argues that, in the end, Ridge Hill is good for Yonkers

The Journal News has a good package of articles and commentary (and video) responding to yesterday's convictions, on all counts, of former City Council Member Sandy Annabi and her political mentor, Zehy Jereis.

The editorial, Annabi trial ends, but corruption will linger, stated:
The smitten-cousin defense, novel and intriguing as it was, ultimately was no match for common sense, or the Rolex watch, car payments, airfare, cash or other valuables that moved between former Yonkers Councilwoman Sandy Annabi and her distant cousin, one-time Yonkers Republican Party Chairman Zehy Jereis, convicted Thursday of all charges in their federal corruption trial.
There was some plausibility to that defense, actually, given that Jereis also went through a dramatic personal makeover, including a 150-pound weight loss, which he said was motivated by his desire for Annabi.

Then again, as prosecutors pointed out, the checks to Annabi came from a joint account Jereis shared with his wife, while he and Annabi talked 81 times on "job fair day" and only four times on Valentine's Day. 

Very confusing. Could it be that Jereis had the hots for Annabi and also wanted to influence her, and/or she treated him as a "sugar daddy" but also took his political advice? If so, that's still basis for guilt, prosecutors said, since friendship doesn't get you off the hook.

More investigations

The Journal News saw the prosecutions part of a long history, and predicted more:
So went another chapter in the annals of public corruption in New York and the Lower Hudson Valley. It is an old and tedious story. In February, former longtime state Sen. Nicholas Spano, a Yonkers Republican, pleaded guilty to tax evasion, in a case where public corruption also figured prominently.
...Spano’s undoing closely follows that of former state Sen. Vincent Leibell, for long the most powerful Republican in Putnam County.
As noted yesterday, prosecutors said the investigation is continuing.

Turning point?

In a reaction article headlined 'Slam dunk' verdict called 'turning point' for Yonkers, the newspaper got that headline quote from Mayor Mike Spano, bother of Nick:
“This says, very clearly and very loudly, ‘If you are elected, you are entrusted with public dollars — and if you are in any way complicit in taking illegal gifts, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Spano said.
The city is improving its ethics code, but Spano is not immune to whispers. A Republican turned Democrat, he hired Jereis's wife at City Hall. And, in anonymous comments at the Yonkers Tribune, some went after him, with one warning:
Mike Spano will not finish a four year term.
Before it's over, both Zehy and Sandy will bury him in order to cut a deal.
A defense of Ridge Hill

Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey
Journal News columnist Phil Reisman suggested, On Ridge Hill, Annabi's vote was right for Yonkers:
Because of Ridge Hill, Yonkers presents a direct challenge to White Plains as the county’s dominant retail center.
Built by the mega-development firm Forest City Ratner, Ridge Hill was not without tremendous controversy, as everything in Yonkers always is.
But you could make the reasonable argument that Ridge Hill is the best thing to happen to Yonkers since Neil Simon wrote a play about getting lost there.
Reisman has a point--Ridge Hill is nice and shiny in a city that, overall, is not--but he sounds not unlike  some Barclays Center defenders: who cares if it's a sweetheart deal for the developer, since it produces some good for the community?

A former Council Member, Dee Barbato, testified that the annual payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) negotiated by Forest City Ratner were less than half those paid by a shopping center one-third the size. The additional $10.8 million Annabi negotiated was just a one-shot.

Lingering questions: Forest City

Reisman wrote:
There are a lot of fishy things about this case, a host of unanswered questions. One of them is why nobody at Forest City was ever implicated in the Ridge Hill part of the bribery scheme. We may never know the answer to that question.
Because it was never quite a bribe, just "corrupt payments." Forest City reps said they never knew Jereis was influencing Annabi. 

Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey
Still, when Forest City government relations chief Bruce Bender was asked if they promised Jereis a job before Annabi’s vote, he said, "It was inconclusive, but we certainly left the impression we were probably going to do it."

That's fishy, indeed. And, as I wrote, while Forest City may say the trial wasn't about them, it was, at least in part.

Lingering questions: reversal

Reisman suggested that "[s]ome people who have watched the trial closely believe the jury was confused by the complexity of the charges" and that Annabi and Jereis may see their corruption convictions overturned:
Indeed, Annabi may only go to jail for mortgage fraud — an offense that could be tagged to half the underwater homeowners in America and the crooked bankers who enabled them.
Actually, Annabi also was convicted of tax fraud, claiming a $50,000 loss on a loan to her father that prosecutors contended, and jurors agreed, was bogus.

Reisman's right that there's a fighting chance of reversal.

But there's also a chance that, if the verdict stands, Annabi and Jereis will cooperate to reduce their sentences, and more of the mystery of Ridge Hill will be uncovered.

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