Friday, March 19, 2010

Legal payoffs, dubious payments, FCR's corporate ethics, and the continuing mystery of Ridge Hill

This week and next I'll try to compensate slightly for the failure of any metro columnists to show up and glean insights from the rich spectacle of the Barclays Center groundbreaking March 11.

So many of them--the public supporters of Atlantic Yards on the dais--were paid, thus tainting their words.

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who delivered the invocation, asserted that the property that Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner once called "a great piece of real estate" was some " "long-neglected, rodent-infested, garbage-strewn strip of geography."

Daughtry is a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) signatory, and all CBA signatories receive funding from Forest City Ratner (despite Daughtry's lack of transparency).

Delia Hunley-Adossa, chairperson of the CBA executive committee, asserted the wonders of the CBA, also has ducked questions about Ratner's money.

Then there's the Rev. Al Sharpton, who came to pronounce the essential value of the project, despite his unwillingness to do any analysis. (His National Action Alliance has been funded by the developer.)

It's all perfectly legal. Not terribly savory--and rather problematic, according to a New York City Bar analysis of CBAs--but legal.

(Was Jay-Z paid? He doesn't need the money. But surely he negotiated a sweeter deal in thanks for his willingness to shift the spotlight off the Russian oligarch behind the curtain.)

The mystery of Ridge Hill

Nobody was talking about another set of payments involving Forest City Ratner, part of a deal that was much more complicated, required more political hardball, and has provoked three federal indictments.

That's the mystery of Ridge Hill, as I wrote last week, the Yonkers project in which Forest City Ratner gave a consultant a no-show job but was given a pass regarding any connection to the bribes that the consultant made to the City Council member who changed her vote to approve the project.

There are numerous unanswered questions, since the result, as of now, is that FCR not only escaped sanction for some questionable behavior--it has never explained or justified the no-show contract--it also can continue to benefit from a zoning change that was, according to prosecutors, illicitly gained.

And the questions aren't going to go away.

The Bobbleheads protest

Steve de Sève, an organizer of some of the media events at Freddy's Bar & Backroom, yesterday organized a Bobbleheads Attack, in which faux versions of local officials and others--the same Bobbleheads who appeared at a protest last Thursday--called on Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to give back a campaign contribution from Bruce Ratner and to indict the developer.



(Videography by Jonathan Barkey)

I wrote in February about the $5000 contribution, suggesting that, if Cuomo has the strictest policy in the state on such gifts, he should give it back. (This was without even mentioning Ridge Hill.)

The reality of Ridge Hill prosecution may be more complicated; as a ex-prosecutor I spoke to said, even if the no-show contract might represent a state crime, FCR may have received effective immunity as a result of its arrangement with federal authorities.

Bribery and corporate citizenship

Some of the Bobbleheads played a little fast and loose with the facts yesterday. "When you got a guy who the feds said bribed somebody, anything he gives anybody's gotta be a bribe," said the Bloomberg character.

"I guess I'm gonna give it back because it's the only way to treat someone who has provided evidence he's bribed a public official," said the faux Cuomo.

On camera, de Sève describes Ratner as "the person who gave the bribe."

Actually, the feds have not said Bruce Ratner bribed anybody; that's the mystery.

But it's hard to disagree with the observation, by de Sève and others, that Ratner's been a beneficiary of major favoritism.

And the overall case of Ridge Hill suggests, at the very least, it's dubious for the Empire State Development Corporation to say, "We remain confident in Forest City as a developer and as a good corporate citizen."

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