Friday, February 10, 2012

Yonkers pol Nick Spano to plead guilty to tax evasion; brother Mike, now mayor, served as FCR agent on Ridge Hill; did Nick have a Ridge Hill connection?

In an article today headlined Former State Senator From Westchester Is to Plead Guilty on a Federal Tax Charge, the New York Times reported:
Nicholas A. Spano, a former state senator who doled out millions of dollars in state grants in his Westchester County district during his lengthy tenure in office, is set to plead guilty to a federal tax charge, his lawyer confirmed on Thursday.

Mr. Spano’s lawyer, Richard W. Levitt, said Mr. Spano would appear in Federal District Court in White Plains on Friday and admit to failing to report more than $45,000 in income from 2000 to 2008....

Mr. Spano, 58, a Republican, began representing the 35th Senate District in 1987. In 2006, he was defeated by Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, despite the $3.74 million in “member items,” also known as legislative earmarks, that he had brought to the district the year before.
Curious timing: Ridge Hill trial

What the Times didn't report is the curious timing, as pointed out by the Journal News:
Spano’s appearance in federal court comes on the eve of the trial of former Democratic Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi and former Yonkers Republican Party leader Zehy Jereis, which is expected to begin Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan.

They are accused of conspiring to sell Annabi’s votes on two development projects in the city, including the controversial $630 million Ridge Hill development.
It could go deeper or, as New York Times columnist Michael Powell tweeted, "rumors of shoes, many shoes, to drop." As Journal News columnist Phil Reisman wrote 11/3/11, "Jereis was also a longtime crony and factotum for Nick Spano, the former state senator and older brother of Mike Spano."

After all, as has been alleged by less than fully transparent sources, Nick Spano, whose lobbyist brother was a agent for Forest City and is now the city's mayor, was indeed involved in the Ridge Hill case.

(Spano told Reisman last November that, while working for Patricia Lynch Associates, which had Forest City as a client, he was asked to hold "strictly informational" meetings with three City Council members opposing the project, but didn't lobby them.)

I'd add one incredible bonus fact: by boosting the career of Jonathan Lippman, now Chief Judge on the Court of Appeals in Albany, Nick Spano is indirectly responsible for that court's much-denounced decision upholding eminent domain for Atlantic Yards.

Yonkers politics and FCR lobbyists

On the RisingTimes blog, connected to the weekly Yonkers Rising, one pseudonymous commenter, “Yonkers Confidential,” has suggested that the feds “sorely want Annabi’s testimony against other, more ‘high-value’ targets” in other cases.

I can't vouch for "Yonkers Confidential," but put it out there just in case some of this emerges in the trial that begins next week.

“Yonkers Confidential” on 5/24/11 wrote that former Assemblyman Mike Spano was:
‘asked’ by his big brother [Nick] to leave the NYS Assembly in 2005 in order to lobby for the Ridge Hill project, working for the lobbying firm of Patricia Lynch & Associates. Nick needed Sandy Annabi’s vote, and he brought in Mike to engage the fixer, Zehy Jereis. The feds were watching (and listening) on May 31 and again on June 1, 2006 as Mike Spano and Zehy Jereis discussed their strategy in Garden City, NY. Jereis would get paid via a consulting contract with Forest City Ratner for delivering Annabi’s vote... The feds were watching (and listening) again the next day, June 2, 2006, when Mike Spano introduced Jereis to representatives of Forest City Ratner and the aforementioned consulting deal was officially cut.
I haven't seen that confirmed elsewhere. The New York Times reported 5/5/08 of talk regarding the brothers.:
And they have also questioned whether former State Senator Nicholas A. Spano, whose ability to find money in Albany for Yonkers has long made him a Republican legend, or his brother Mike Spano, a Democratic assemblyman who worked as a lobbyist for Ratner between terms in Albany, exerted any undue influence.
...Both Spano brothers said they had had no contact with the authorities. Nicholas, who is weighing another run for his old Senate seat, said he was not troubled by the specter of a far-flung investigation; Mike said he had done nothing more than speak to some of the holdouts on the City Council about their qualms on Ridge Hill and relay them to the developers.
The Pirro connection

Who else was involved? Albert Pirro, the estranged husband (and temporarily suspended attorney) of longtime Westchster District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, who left office in 2006.

According to state lobbying data, Pirro and his partner Jeffrey Buley received nearly $109,000 from Forest City in 2005 to lobby the executive branch and the Senate on “BROWNFIELDS CLEANUP PROGRAMS. PURCHASE OF RIDGE HILL PROJECT.”

The Times reported:
One meeting Mr. Pirro arranged at the Westchester Country Club included two representatives from Forest City and three of the Council’s holdouts on Ridge Hill: Ms. Annabi and two Republicans, John Murtagh and Dee Barbato. Ms. Annabi has said that anyone who attended that meeting would know that she and Mr. Pirro are not chummy; she has said that he cursed her under his breath that day.
Mr. Pirro gave Ms. Annabi’s campaign $250 in early 2005, one of several similar contributions he or his firm made that year to Yonkers officials.
The Silver connection?

“Yonkers Confidential" 12/13/10 tried to connect some dots:
To get the Ridge Hill deal done, Pirro needed to engage Senator Nick Spano, Zehy Jereis’ ‘political handler.’ After a conversation, the deal was struck. Nick would have his brother, Assemblyman Mike, take a temporary leave from the NYS Assembly and join the Pat Lynch’s lobbying firm, guaranteeing that Nick got paid for his efforts – at an arm’s length, of course, because he was still a NYS Senator. Nick Spano was very close to Shelly Silver, Lynch’s former boss. And Silver still owed Spano for clearing the way to make Silver’s boyhood pal, Jonathan Lippman, the Chief Judge of the NYS Court of Appeals.
Mike Spano, now a Lynch lobbyist, introduced Zehy Jereis to Ratner’s Bruce Bender and continued to massage the relationship, knowing full well about the payment that would be made to Annabi to get her vote on the project. Bender made a deal with Jereis, contingent upon getting Annabi’s support for Ridge Hill, that would pay him a $60,000 consulting contract. When the vote was taken in July of 2006, everyone got paid, and Mike Spano returned to the NYS Assembly in 2008. This is the criminal conspiracy that is at the heart of the Ridge Hill investigation.
This account has been confirmed, at least in part, by former Council Member John Murtag, who has said Mike Spano introduced Jereis to Forest City Ratner, specifically Bender.
Bender, as we know, recently announced he was leaving Forest City Ratner for new pastures--a departure that might just be related to a trial in which he will be mentioned, if not called to testify.

The Lippman connection

Yonkers Confidential is quite right about Nick Spano's role in the appointment of Lippman. As Wayne Barrett wrote in the 2/10/09 Village Voice, Nick Spano's machinations--getting Lippman "cross-endorsed" for his first judicial election--were key to the jurist's success.

Given that Lippman wrote the majority opinion in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case--and could have, as legal observers have suggested, cleared a far more interventionist role for the courts in the such cases--it might be said that, indirectly, Ridge Hill cleared the way for Atlantic Yards.

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