Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Times columnist Powell again tracks the connection of "politically wired developer" Ratner to the Yonkers corruption trial involving Ridge Hill

In Tracking the Tentacles of Corruption, New York Times Gotham columnist Michael Powell writes again (as he did last month) about the upcoming Yonkers corruption trial and the connections to developer Forest City Ratner:
But the trial is tantalizing for where its tentacles extend — linking political corruption in Westchester to that in Brooklyn, and touching on the curious fashion in which real estate developers pursue their chosen game.
(Where was Powell, say, at the March 2010 arena groundbreaking, or the August 2006 hearing on the Draft EIS, both of which were prime fodder for columns? Well, he's been a columnist since only May 2011. But no other columnist had a clue? Shame.)

The "politically wired developer"

Powell writes:
All of which brings us to the role of the politically wired developer, whose projects are catnip to politicians. No prosecutor has implied that Mr. Ratner or his aides played a corrupt role. In Brooklyn, where he has a 22-acre development known as the Atlantic Yards, he was mentioned in the corruption case last year that toppled a Brooklyn Democratic power, State Senator Carl Kruger. Prosecutors called Mr. Ratner “Developer No. 1.” In Yonkers, he appears in Ms. Annabi’s indictment as “Developer No. 2.”
After I wrote last month of Mr. Ratner’s entanglements, several left-liberal sorts, not least former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, wrote to object that I had besmirched a fine fellow. The developer is a patron of liberal causes. He has set aside a significant number of apartments in his Atlantic Yards project for working-class tenants.
Much of this is true, as is this: Mr. Ratner wrangled $726 million in subsidies and benefits from the city and state, and he fights for even more by the week. (He was the developer of The New York Times building.) His willingness to tuck affordable apartments into his gleaming towers is perhaps a reasonable political tradeoff rather than a testament to his character.
Powell may be a little too generous, since Ratner's "willingness to tuck affordable apartments into his gleaming towers" has been called into question by the delays in getting the first building started and his failure to meet the promise that 50% of the subsidized units (in square feet) would be devoted to larger apartments.

And I'll suggest that, while "[n]o prosecutor has implied that Mr. Ratner or his aides played a corrupt role," that doesn't let Forest City off the hook regarding unethical, if not illegal, behavior, which should be tested in court.

I'll note that the $726 million represents city, state, and federal subsidies and benefits for the arena, as calculated by the New York City Independent Budget Office in 2009. It's likely overstated by some $50 million, given that it's based on $678 million in tax-exempt bonds, rather than the $511 million ultimately sold. But the overall subsidies for the project, including not-yet-allotted housing bonds, surely would lift the total well over $726 million.

Read the column for more, including reflections on the departure of "fixer" Bruce Bender.

Yonkers corruption

Powell mentions the tax evasion plea last week by powerful Yonkers pol Nick Spano to the corruption trial, which starts tomorrow (today's a pre-trial conference) in federal court and involves two developments, one Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill.

The operatives in Yonkers seem to know each other. Former Spano aide Anthony Mangone was indicted along with former Council Member Sandy Annabi and lobbyist Zehy Jereis, and has already pleaded guilty to bribery regarding the other project, Longfellow.

Mangone use to work for Spano, and both were connected to lobbyists for Forest City, including Spano's brother Mike, now the mayor of Yonkers.

Note that the Journal News, in an article this morning headlined Annabi lawyer criticizes feds for timing of Spano charges, quoted William Aronwald as suggesting the pleas was a "deliberate attempt to prejudice the jury."

Annabi is charged with taking money from Jereis for changing her vote, enabling the approval of Ridge Hill. After Annabi's vote, Jereis got a no-show job from Forest City, which the developer has never explained or justified. Aronwald says no one will testify that Annabi solicited the alleged bribes.

The Journal News notes that Franco Milio and Anthony Milio, who developed the Longfellow project, pleaded guilty to tax evasion last week in federal court. 

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