Wednesday, February 22, 2012

FCR's Bender mentioned in first day of Ridge Hill trial testimony: he was at two key meetings regarding defendant Annabi's changed vote

Former Yonkers Council Member John Murtagh, testifying yesterday in the federal corruption trial involving Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project, described the presence of (recently departed) Forest City Ratner executive Bruce Bender at a couple of key meetings before then-Council Member Sandy Annabi, a defendant in the trial, changed her vote to approve the project.

According to the Journal News, in Witnesses speak of Annabi's spending: In Yonkers trial, Murtagh describes Jereis' actions:
Murtagh, the former councilman who lost the race for mayor in November, described Ridge Hill as the “single most important ... issue that occupied our time” in 2005 and 2006. The opposition centered on insufficient revenue for the city, tax breaks for the developer, Forest City Ratner, and traffic and other environmental concerns.
Annabi was seemingly staunchly opposed. The four of seven proponents on the Council agreed to overturn the requirement for a five-member supermajority (because Westchester County was opposed), prompting a successful lawsuit, with Annabi the lead plaintiff,, to restore the supermajority.

The first Bender meeting

According to the report, Murtagh described a May 18, 2006, meeting at Westchester Country Club with Annabi, Council Member Dee Barbato, Forest City Ratner's Bender, and FCR lobbyist Albert Pirro:
“They weren’t conceding any of our positions, what we needed,” Murtagh said. “It kind of went nowhere.”
In the parking lot afterward, he said, Annabi told him and Barbato that if they stuck together they could get much more from the developer.
But a few weeks later Annabi had changed her mind in exchange for an extra $10 million the developer would give the city.
Lobbyist Pirro, he said, had previously made a similar proposal, which he thought inadequate. The "extra $10 million," of course, was Annabi's public rationale, while prosecutors say she was taking money from her distant cousin, Yonkers Republican Chair Zehy Jereis, who later got a no-show job from Forest City.

The second Bender meeting

On July 11, 2006, shortly before Annabi formally voted for the project, Murtagh was called by defendant  Jereis to a meeting:
He met Jereis and Bender at a Starbucks on Central Avenue, and Jereis, who did most of the talking, told him Ridge Hill was going to pass and that it would look good politically for Murtagh to vote for it as well.
“I kind of figured it looked better for Sandy if two people changed their vote,” Murtagh told Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Halperin. “But to suddenly change my vote, far from being politically savvy, it would have been political suicide.”

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