Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New twists in Ridge Hill corruption trial: Forest City consultant Pirro said to claim job for defendant Jereis would get defendant Annabi to flip her City Council vote

In pre-trial decisions yesterday by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, the contours of the Yonkers corruption trial, which begins today, became more clear, with confirmation that Forest City Ratner officials would indeed testify and new evidence of a central role by a Forest City Ratner consultant.

The case involves bribes allegedly paid by Yonkers Republican Chair Zehy Jereis to Council Member Sandy Annabi to greenlight two projects, the Longfellow (by Milio Management) and Ridge Hill (by Forest City). Attorney Anthony Mangone has already pleaded guilty in the Longfellow case.

The Pirro connection

The New York Times reported, in With Action by Judge, Details in a Yonkers Corruption Case Emerge, that Albert Pirro, Jr., husband of Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro (and former federal prisoner on tax charges), was working as a consultant for Forest City Ratner:
During a meeting with one council member, Mr. Pirro turned the conversation to how others on the Council might vote, according to a prosecution account described in a judge’s ruling released late Tuesday; when it came to assessing one member, Sandy Annabi, he showed no hesitation, the account continued.
He was confident, according to the same account, that he could win her vote by giving a job to one of her friends, Zehy Jereis, then the chairman of the Yonkers Republican Party.
“I am not worried about Sandy Annabi,” Mr. Pirro was quoted as saying to Dennis Robertson, then a councilman. “We will just give Zehy a consulting contract, and we will get her vote.”
Federal charges indicate that's what happened, that Jereis got a no-show job from Forest City after Annabi changed her vote. The Times reports:
Mr. Pirro declined to comment. Forest City Ratner said it “had no knowledge of what Mr. Pirro may have said.” The company said it had cooperated fully with the inquiry and “at no point was there any indication or suggestion that they behaved in a way that was inappropriate.”
Prosecutors may not have suggested that Forest City behaved illegally, but the developer has never explained or justified the no-show job. Doesn't that qualify as inappropriate or unethical?

More corroboration

According to the judge's order:
The Government proffers the following "independent, non-hearsay evidence" as independent corroboration for Pirro's statements: (1) testimony from FCR officials that in or about early June 2006 before Annabi announced her vote flip on the Ridge Hill Project, Jereis asked FCR for a job; (2) testimony and documentary evidence that the day after Annabi announced her vote flip in a press release (but had yet to officially vote in favor of the project) Jereis sent FCR an email attaching his own resume and a cover letter; (3) testimony and documentary evidence that Jereis repeatedly pressed FCR for a consulting contract in or about June 2006; (4) testimony that Jereis and FCR reached an agreement in principle about two weeks before the July 11, 2006 vote that FCR would give Jereis a consulting contract sometime after Annabi officially voted in favor of the project; (5) proof that Annabi did, n fact, flip her position.... (6) proof that FCR subsequently gave Jereis a $60,000 consulting contract. According to the Government, at least two of its witnesses will testify that they participated in separate conversations with Jereis in which the issue of Jereis's obtaining a job with FCR as discussed.
The Jereis-Annabi relationship

According to a decision by McMahon, yesterday, Annabi's attorney William Aronwald produced "a series of approximately 22 purported emails allegedly written" by Jereis to Annabi, between 5/1/05 and 12/11/06, explaining "that he has loved Annabi for the past five years and claims that he had given her certain gifts (which correspond to the payments described in the Indictment) as manifestations of that love."

Annabi, however, has denied she had a romantic relationship with Jereis. Prosecutors have questioned the authenticity of the emails and asked the judge to rule them as inadmissible hearsay. The judge agreed that a defendant, unlike the prosecution, cannot use his own out-of-court statements:
If Jereis, the author of the emails, wants to make this point to the jury, he will have to get on the witness stand and testify.... the emails are not reliable evidence of Jereis' state of mined... They set out an ex post facto justification for payments that were made to Annabi months or years before.
Mangone and Jereis

The Wall Street Journal reported, in Judge Allows New Claims in Bribe Trial:
Prosecutors said in court papers they intend to show Mr. Jereis and another Spano associate, disbarred attorney Anthony Mangone, participated in a 2006 scheme to bribe a potential challenger to the senator with $10,000.

The unidentified candidate was to run against Mr. Spano in the Independence Party primary, according to court papers. It isn't clear from court documents if the alleged bribe was paid.

They also allege that Mr. Spano arranged a no-show consultant job for Mr. Jereis with the Yonkers Chamber of Commerce [COC] between April 2006 and June 2007. Prosecutors claim the job was set up after Mr. Mangone told Mr. Jereis "he would have to leave the senator's government payroll because Jereis had become too controversial," according to court papers.
The first scheme, according to the judge's order, is not direct evidence of the scheme alleged in the indictment, since Annabi was not the recipient of the funds, and the evidence is not admissible against her:
The Government's principal argument is that evidence about the second bribery scheme qualifies as direct evidence because it shows the nature of the relationship between Jereis and Mangone... it argues that evidence about a second bribery conspiracy between the two men, occurring at more or less the same time as the events that are the subject of the instant indictment, helps to explain the mutual trust inherent in that relationship--trust that might have led Mangone to feel comfortable taking money for the purpose of bribing Annabi and giving that money to Jereis to deliver to Annabi.
As for the no-show job, the judge writes:
The Government argues that Jereis's conduct with the COC consulting contract is remarkable similar to his conduct with the $60,000 no-show consulting contract he obtained from Forest City Ratner ("FCR") that began paying him in August 2006 after Annabi voted in favor of the Ridge Hill Project in July 2006. According to the Government, the evidence at trial will show that, although Jereis was required under the FCR contract to file monthly reports to explain what work he was doing for FCR, Jereis never filed any monthly reports until after news of the instant investigation broke in or about March 2007 when he then filed a slew of backdated monthly reports. The Government alleges that Jereis engaged in the same conduct at COC.
..It is the Government's position that Jereis filed these reports in both instances to conceal that he performed virtually no services for the payments he received. The Government represents that the FCR officials and the COC officials will both testify that Jereis added little, if anything, of value to their organizations.
McMahon agreed that the evidence is admissible, not as direct evidence of the crimes charged but as "common scheme or plan evidence, and to a lesser extent as evidence of intent."

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