Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Did Forest City Ratner get "bilked" by Yonkers defendant (as suggested in 2010 Times coverage)? Trial testimony indicates the opposite

You haven't read it in the New York Times, because the newspaper has chosen to avoid recent coverage of the Yonkers corruption trial (though not saturation coverage of the latest Pale Male twist).

But in the past few days, two Forest City Ratner witnesses demolished the sloppy, dishonest phrasing in the Times's 1/6/10 report, Ex-Official in Yonkers Faces Charges of Corruption.

Back then, the Times suggested that Zehy Jereis, the go-between accused of engineering Ex-Council Member Sandy Annabi's vote to green-light the Ridge Hill project, was "accused of bilking" Forest City.


Got "bilked"?

Any fair reading of the indictment and the term "bilk" should have let a sentient being conclude that Forest City did not get bilked.

Indeed, as Michael D.D. White pointed out in his Noticing New York blog, it strained credulity for the Times to report that "Forest City Ratner, a real estate firm whose specialty is collecting government subsidies through its relentless cultivation of public officials, was outsmarted" by the defendants.

It wasn't.

Jereis did persist in asking for a consulting gig after he had helped get Forest City a meeting with Annabi, and Forest City executives did string him along, neither saying yes or no before Annabi voted.

After Annabi came through, Forest City eventually signed Jereis to a $5000/month consulting contract. According to testimony yesterday, Jereis turned in invoices so thin in description that FCR executive John Swagerty refused to accept them.

Later, when the invoices were revised, but without the submission of the required accompanying reports, Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone, the developer's two top government relations officials, ordered Swagerty to sign off on it.

Getting Jereis paid

"We need to get Zehy Jereis paid ASAP," stated the message, sent by the administrative assistant assigned to Bender and Cantone.

That's curious, because, as Bender and Cantone both testified, Jereis did no work of value other than set up a meeting with Annabi.

They still paid him.

It wasn't a bribe, because there was no direct quid pro quo. But Cantone said that Jereis probably wouldn't have been hired had he not produced Annabi's vote.

So maybe it was closer to a reward.

What it was not, it seems crystal clear, was an exchange in which Forest City Ratner got "bilked."

Maybe the Times's snarky editor in charge of corrections should re-think this one.

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