Monday, February 20, 2012

Testimony in Yonkers corruption trial, including Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project, begins tomorrow

Testimony in the Yonkers corruption trial of former Council Member Sandy Annabi and lobbyist Zehy Jereis, her distant cousin, starts tomorrow in federal court in Manhattan.

As readers of this blog know, part of the case involves the Ridge Hill project developed by Forest City Ratner; Annabi changed her vote to enable the development. Prosecutors say she did so because she was paid by Jereis who later got a no-show job from Forest City.

Forest City was not charged, though representatives of the company--including Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone, who curiously enough recently announced their departure--should either testify or be mentioned.

The other half of the case, involving a project called Longfellow, seems more cut-and-dried. The alleged go-between, Anthony Mangone, has already pleaded guilty, and the developer, though not charged with bribery, pleaded guilty to tax evasion.

Setting the scene

The Journal News sets the scene today, in Yonkers federal corruption trial to offer look inside: Ridge Hill probe likely to call many lawmakers and builders to testify:
The Yonkers federal corruption trial set to continue Tuesday will offer a rare behind-the-scenes look into a world of closed-door politics and lucrative development deals.
The trial of former Yonkers Councilwoman Sandy Annabi and her cousin Zehy Jereis will feature cameo appearances by lawmakers, political fixers, super-rich builders and even a disbarred lawyer.
And when will the Ridge Hill aspect of the case be aired? Unclear, though I hope to see some of it.

The defense

The defense in both cases for Annabi is that the developers changed the projects so as to remove her objections. However, as the article concludes:
Ridge Hill drew much criticism from Annabi in her first term in office, particularly that the developer, which she famously once called “probably richer than God,” was getting too much in tax breaks. She, John Murtagh and Dee Barbato were the three opponents on the council. That ordinarily would not have been enough to defeat the project, except that Ridge Hill needed zoning changes that required a supermajority.
Halperin said Annabi, after one meeting on the Ridge Hill project, turned to Murtagh and Barbato and essentially told them “(the developers) need five votes — if we stay strong we can win this.”

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