Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The mystery of Ridge Hill may not be revealed: defendants seem unlikely to testify; defense lawyers push for dismissal of some charges

Yesterday was a short day in open court for the Yonkers corruption trial. The only witness, testifying for the jury on a videotape made earlier in the day, was the former accountant for ex-City Council Member Sandy Annabi.

And Walid Farhat proved a not-so-reliable prosecution witness regarding Annabi's tax returns, as William Aronwald, Annabi's attorney, caught him in several contradictions and memory lapses. For example, he acknowledged, in contradiction with his testimony last week, that he had told investigators that Annabi made a $50,000 loan to her father by check, not cash.

After Farhat's testimony, the prosecution rested.

Defendants won't testify?

Before hearing arguments for dismissal of the conspiracy, bribery, and extortion charges faced by Annabi and co-defendant Zehy Jereis--tax and mortgage fraud charges would remain--U.s. District Judge Colleen McMahon explained that Annabi's defense might take a day and a half, and Jereis's brief defense would follow shortly after that.

Given the four-days-a-week court schedule, that suggests that closing arguments could begin on Monday.

Such short time periods for the defense signaled that it would be unlikely that either Annabi or Jereis will testify about the stream of payments--gifts, according to Jereis's attorney--that he gave to Annabi. Prosecutors allege that such payments controlled Annabi's vote on two development projects, including Forest City's Ridge Hill and Milio Management's Longfellow, though the direct evidence is murky.

With Longfellow, prosecutors have a witness, disbarred attorney and admitted felon Anthony Mangone, alleging evidence of a bribe from Milio to Jereis, which he was said to pass on to Annabi.

There's no evidence of a bribe from Forest City to Jereis, just an after-the-fact no-show job, sketchy though apparently not criminal.

Exactly what happened we may never know, if the defendants don't testify.

Call for charges to be dropped

Both the Journal News, in Annabi and Jereis defense: Drop conspiracy, bribery charges, and the New York Times, in Charges Not Dismissed in Yonkers Corruption Case, covered the argument before McMahon to dismiss most of the charges. (The Times seems somehow back to daily coverage.)

As paraphrased by the Journal News, Anthony Siano, lawyer for Jereis, said there was no evidence "there was ever a 'meeting of the minds' between the two that money Jereis spent on Annabi was for the purpose of controlling how she voted on city business."

Aronwald pointed out, as established during testimony, that no one claimed Annabi knew Jereis sought a job from Forest City Ratner, and that the Milios and Mangone acknowledged they didn't know if Annabi received money passed on to Jereis.

Prosecutors say the circumstantial evidence is sufficient, notably the payments, concealment, and subsequent official action.

Siano called Mangone, an admitted liar, the “Frankenstein of perjury,” and said any part of the case reliant on his testimony should be stricken.

McMahon did not rule immediately on the motion.

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