Monday, February 27, 2012

Assemblyman Joe Lentol, some curious connections, and the Ridge Hill/Yonkers corruption trial that resumes today

So, who knew Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol had played a key cameo in the machinations that led to passage of Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill development in Yonkers? Not until testimony last Thursday in a federal corruption trial did that surface, and only glancingly so.

The upshot: Lentol, an Atlantic Yards supporter, seems closer to Forest City than most people knew.

The reasons? Unclear, but Lentol's close relationship with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, himself a key Forest City ally, probably doesn't hurt. (Lentol chairs the Brooklyn delegation and the Codes Committee, both key positions.)

The linkage? The go-between who connected Lentol, Forest City, and defendant Zehy Jereis--charged with bribing Council Member Sandy Annabi to change her vote--said he knew the Assemblyman from the very mainstream Lions Club.

But both the go-between, Joseph Galimi, and Lentol also have been reported to have connections, however indirect, with organized crime figures, factoids that should be filed away in case more information surfaces.

Trial resumes; grant of immunity?

The trial resumes today with Forest City Ratner executive Scott Cantone on the stand and his former boss Bruce Bender--so close they're starting a lobbying firm together--waiting in the wings.

It will be interesting to learn whether, for example, the witnesses are testifying under a grant of immunity from prosecution. Forest City of course has not been charged, and it is not a target or subject of the probe.

But if there were even ambiguous evidence against Forest City regarding criminal (rather than ethical) wrongdoing, it's possible that attorneys for the developer's witnesses early on negotiated a grant of immunity, just in case.

Also see coverage in today's Journal News, Trial highlights Jereis-Annabi ties, which highlights the curiously close relationship between Democrat Annabi and Republican Jereis, despite their surface party differences:
[Jereis] pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after he and two other Yonkers political figures were accused of forging signatures on Conservative Party nominating petitions in 1996. That didn’t stop him from being hired a few years later for a top job at the Westchester Board of Elections.
He later worked on Nicholas Spano’s Senate staff for three years, although in 2006 he left after Mangone told him he had become too controversial.
The year before, Jereis had been accused by a gangster-turned-government-informant of taking payoffs to pass along information about investigations by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.
Jereis landed on his feet, with a $100,000 job at the Yonkers Chamber of Commerce, arranged by Spano.
Lentol's role, and a question mark

During brief but tantalizing testimony last week, we learned how Forest City relied on a skein of connections to meet Jereis, but not exactly how it was set in motion.

Lentol was an old friend of Joseph Galimi, described in court as a former Department of Public Works in Yonkers but also, as noted by the Journal News, a figure who's been investigated for organized crime ties. Galimi said he'd worked for Lentol in the 1980s, part-time for seven years and full-time for six months.

And Galimi knew Jereis well, from Yonkers political activities, talking regularly, "a couple of times a week," about "general things, politics."

In a meeting at Tiro A Segno, a private club in Manhattan, Lentol brought up Ridge Hill to Jereis and Galimi, and Jereis agreed to meet with Forest City.

But how did that meeting come about? We didn't quite learn. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Halperin asked Galimi if, in April 2006, "did Assemblyman Lentol raise an issue about Ridge Hill?"

The answer was yes. Galimi was at Tiro A Segno with Lentol, Jereis (who'd driven the car from Yonkers), and another friend, Victor Gartenstein. (A search suggests Gartenstein lives either in Brooklyn or Manhattan, but no identifying information, not even a clear spelling, was offered.)

But we weren't told who set up the meeting, or whether it was an accidental encounter with Lentol, who presumably was coming from Brooklyn.

(In a 2/24/12 Journal News article Forest City known for tough political skills around region, Lentol praised Forest City because they "definitely have a good track record as developers as far as efficiency and getting things done”--a statement that leaves a lot hanging out there--but would not comment on his role in the Galimi meeting.)

Galimi then set up a lunch at Marco Polo Ristorante in Carroll Gardens, with Jereis, Lentol, Bender, and Cantone, whose name he didn't remember.

At the lunch, Jereis said he could probably arrange for a meeting between Forest City and Annabi. And that set in motion actions that led to federal charges against Jereis and Annabi.

Mob ties suggested

Marco Polo is a nice place to eat. It also has a reputation, as the Daily News reported 12/5/08, in Mob-tied Brooklyn restaurateur avoids jail with help from Marty Markowitz:
Reputed Gambino crime family soldier Joseph Chirico won't serve a single day in prison: He was sentenced to six months' house arrest - and can spend 10 hours a day at his Marco Polo restaurant in Carroll Gardens - without even wearing an ankle bracelet.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Brownell said Chirico passed $1,500 in tribute money from a mob associate to another Gambino soldier. "Organized crime has been a curse, especially in counties like Brooklyn and Queens," Brownell argued.

Federal Judge Jack Weinstein gave Chirico a tongue-lashing for swearing an oath to the Mafia - but let him off after Chirico's lawyer read glowing letters from [Borough President Marty] Markowitz and former Brooklyn beep Howard Golden.
Lentol, it turns out, has sent his own letters on behalf of some accused of mob ties. In an 8/6/04 article headlined B'klyn Pol Goes To Bat For Mob Slay Suspect, the Daily News reported:
A TOP STATE lawmaker asked a federal judge to free a reputed Bonanno crime family associate charged with two gangland slayings, the Daily News has learned.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn) is defending the letter he wrote last May in praise of Patrick (Patty Muscles) Romanello and his application for bail.

Lentol, who chairs the Assembly committee that evaluates all criminal justice legislation, said he knew Romanello was facing racketeering charges, but was unaware of the murder raps...

"It's pretty tough to walk away from somebody when they're not asking you to do something wrong," Lentol said. "He hasn't been tried and convicted. You don't turn your back on a friend."
Lentol told the newspaper he had long known Romanello's family, as they operated an auto body shop in Greenpoint, within his district. "He has a very good reputation throughout my community for doing quality and honest auto body repair work," Lentol wrote to the judge.

What happened to Romanello? In the sidebar to a 10/29/10 New York Times article about a mafia turncoat, Salvatore Vitale, we learned that Romanello had gotten a ten-year sentence related to murder.

A Department of Justice document describes Vitale's cooperation, and on p. 85 (or the 91st page in the overall document), Romanello's crimes are described: racketeering conspiracy, and "predicate acts concerning the 1983 conspiracy to murder, and murder of, Enrico Mazzeo and the 1990 conspiracy to murder, and murder of, Louis Tuzzio... Romaello served as a backup shooter on Mazzeo's murder and fired at Mazzeo after Mazzeo was first shot by another participant in the murder."

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