Skip to main content

A letter to the New York Times about its misleading coverage of Forest City Ratner and the Ridge Hill indictments

This is a letter sent to the New York Times.

I write to request a correction and/or Editor's Note regarding the Times's 1/7/10 coverage of indictments in Yonkers, headlined (online) Ex-Official in Yonkers Faces Charges of Corruption.

In three instances, the article contained lapses that add up to a more positive portrayal of developer Forest City Ratner than merited by the facts.

From the article

The Times reported, in part:
The former councilwoman, Sandy Annabi, 39, a Democrat whose term ended in December, was one of three people charged in the indictment. The other two, Zehy Jereis, 38, the former chairman of the Yonkers Republican Committee, and a lawyer, Anthony Mangone, 36, are accused of bilking two developers of tens of thousands of dollars and funneling the money and other favors to Ms. Annabi in return for her support.

...The investigation began in 2008, about two years after Ms. Annabi voted to enable a $630 million residential and commercial project by Forest City Ratner known as Ridge Hill, to move forward. Shortly after Ms. Annabi cast her vote, Forest City hired Mr. Jereis as a consultant at $60,000 a year.

The indictment does not name Forest City or the other developer, Franco Milio, who had proposed converting two vacant schools into market-rate housing in a development called Longfellow.

In a statement, Forest City said it had “cooperated fully with the U.S. attorney’s office during the course of its investigation and will continue to do so. In addition, Forest City has been advised by the U.S. attorney’s office that neither the company nor any of its employees is a target of the investigation.”
Not a target?

While it was certainly appropriate for the Times to quote Forest City's response about it not being a target of the investigation, the Times did not confirm with the U.S. attorney's office Forest City's claim. In fact, when I contacted the U.S. attorney's office the day the news broke, a representative would neither confirm the claim nor offer any comment.

And, as the Journal-News reported via its LoHud.com site, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara "declined to comment on whether Forest City Ratner had broken the law by hiring Jereis or whether they were a target of the continuing investigation."

In other words, the situation is far more ambiguous than Forest City Ratner's claim suggests.

"Accused of bilking two developers"?

It is misleading shortand to claim that Jereis and Mangone "are accused of bilking two developers," later identified as Forest City Ratner and Franco Milio.

The U.S. Attorney's press release does subsume two cases in one description:
The Indictment also charges ZEHY JEREIS, the former head of the Yonkers Republican Party, and ANTHONY MANGONE, a Westchester County attorney, with conspiracy, bribery, and extortion in connection with two real estate development projects within the City of Yonkers which were pending before ANNABI.
But in neither case is alleged fraud--the common definition of "bilk," as used regularly in the Times (as noted by Michael D.D. White in his Noticing New York blog).

The official indictment tells a story that doesn't come close to deserving the term "bilk." As described in paragraphs 27 through 42 and particularly 35 through 42:
  • Annabi rejected efforts by "Developer No.2" (Forest City Ratner, or FCR) to change her vote
  • Jereis told FCR he could arrange a meeting with her
  • Jereis organized that meeting and, at the same time, asked FCR for a consulting job
  • Annabi reversed her opposition to Ridge Hill
  • Annabi issued a press release drafted by Jereis and FCR representatives
  • FCR agreed to give Jereis a job after Annabi voted
  • Jereis was hired by FCR as a "real estate consultant" on a monthly contract despite his lack of qualification
  • the contract was backdated, presumably at the agreement of both parties
  • Jereis submitted monthly reports purporting to describe the work he'd done, as required by his contract, only after the investigation was announced.
While Jereis may have filed misleading reports, the sequence as a whole suggests that Forest City Ratner cooperated in the scheme and, as White suggests, the people of Yonkers were bilked. FCR more likely got value for money.

Forest City Ratner is a sophisticated firm. It has the capacity to investigate the qualifications of its real estate consultants. It has a pattern of spending significant sums on lobbyists and on campaign contributions, so the hiring of Jereis might more likely be seen as part of the cost of doing business.

Similarly, as the Times reported 3/21/05:
Tax documents show that in 2003, [former Yonkers Mayor John R.] Spencer's [20-something-year-old] brother-in-law, Chris Spring, had a $100,000-a-year job with the [Ridge Hill Development] corporation, but a storm of protest followed and by 2004 he was on the developer's [FCR's] payroll instead.
Failure to disclose business relationship

In a 5/5/08 article on the Ridge Hill investigation, the Times offered a disclosure: that Forest City Ratner "partnered with The New York Times to build its new headquarters."

In this most recent article there was no such disclosure, though the articles are of similar import. Such disclosure would alert reporters and editors of the need to be exacting in their coverage of Forest City Ratner, and it also would alert readers to look at such coverage carefully.

In June 2005, then Public Editor Byron Calame wrote, in regard to an interview with Bruce Ratner:
The New York Times, I believe, has an obligation to alert readers when they are reading substantive articles about a company or individual with whom the newspaper has some business or professional relationship.
This article certainly qualifies. In fact, such disclosure might have prompted those working on the article to avoid the serious lapses detailed above.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …