Crain's columnist David: Forest City's getting a break from light coverage of Yonkers corruption trial
In Forest City in the woods in Yonkers: Developer's reputation takes a hit in Westchester scandal, David writes:
One of the most eye-opening exposés of political corruption in New York is getting very little attention—and at least one local player, Forest City Ratner, can only be relieved about that because the developer's reputation is taking a big hit.David notes the defendants' claims, as well as the testimony by key witness Anthony Mangone, who has "shone a spotlight on two powerful Republicans," former Sen. Nick Spano, who was part of "a vote-fraud scheme more than a decade ago" and state Sen. Tom Libous, who got Mangone's law firm to hire his won.
The revelations are coming in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where Sandy Annabi, a Yonkers city councilwoman, and Zehy Jereis, a political operative and Forest City consultant, are on trial for bribery, extortion and conspiracy. The charges say that Mr. Jereis bribed Ms. Annabi, his cousin, to change her vote and swing the council in favor of Forest City's $842 million Ridge Hill development in that city. Only the Journal News of Westchester has covered the case in detail.
The Forest City revelations
As for Forest City, its efforts to win approval have been detailed at great length in the trial. Here's the bottom line. To push the project, it hired the most powerful people in Westchester—namely Al Pirro (ex-husband of former Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro) and Mr. Spano. When the firm had already invested some $78 million in Ridge Hill and the council seemed unwilling to approve its plan, Forest City became desperate. It hired Mr. Mangone and eventually gave Mr. Jereis a no-show job in hopes they could change Ms. Annabi's vote. That's just what she did.My posted comments
Forest City has done many good things in New York, and no one has suggested that it did anything illegal. But it pursued a project in a city where the politically astute developer knew there was a history of corruption, hired people with questionable bona fides and didn't ask what they did.
Forest City executives admitted in court they were uncomfortable with their deal with Mr. Jereis. Yet its approach? See no evil, hear no evil.
My first comment:
I've covered this trial at length in my blog, AtlanticYardsReport.com, plus pieces for New York magazine and City & State.My second comment:
My blog coverage includes some revelations Greg David didn't get to, including the fact that, after hiring Jereis, one Forest City staffer balked at his inadequate invoices, but the two people most involved in hiring the consultant, Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone, pushed the payment through.
Bender has left the company and Cantone will soon be leaving the company.
The case is surely meaningful to Forest City: it had three people in the room watching the testimony of the above witnesses, and still has one staffer monitoring the trial.
Just be clear, Jereis was hired *after* Annabi's vote, though the testimony is quite intriguing. Forest City reps said they strung him along, trying to leave the impression he would be hired, but unwilling to commit to hiring him, recognizing that would look bad.
They said that the hiring took place a couple of months after Annabi's July 11 vote, though Jereis's one-year contract was backdated to August 1. But Mangone--admittedly an unreliable witness--testified that the draft contract for Jereis was circulating right around the time of Annabi's vote.