Friday, March 02, 2012

Yonkers corruption trial focuses on the Longfellow project: a compromised witness with a gambling problem, some Spano mentions, and favors for another state Senator

The Yonkers corruption trial continued yesterday in federal court with a focus on the second project, Milio Management's Longfellow, rather than Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill.

Unlike with Ridge Hill, prosecutors had a witness, Anthony Mangone, who claimed direct knowledge of payments to defendant Zehy Jereis, former Yonkers Republican Chairman, intended to influence defendant Sandy Annabi, then City Council Member, to greenlight the project. But that witness, given his criminal record, gambling habit, and admitted perjury, was vulnerable to defense attorneys.

Mangone, the third defendant indicted with Jereis and Annabi in early 2010, has already pleaded guilty to tax fraud and conspiracy charges, and is cooperating in an effort to reduce his prison sentence. And Mangone's testimony also implicated past acts, unrelated to this trial, by his political mentor Yonkers powerbroker Nick Spano, a former state Senator turned lobbyist, who recently pleaded guilty to tax charges.

Nick Spano is part of a local political dynasty that includes his brother Mike Spano, a former Assemblyman who worked as a lobbyist for Forest City Ratner on the Ridge Hill case, now serves as Yonkers mayor, and testified briefly in the trial last week.

Jereis says that payments he made to Annabi over the years were aimed to foster a personal relationship. Annabi, who denies such a relationship, says she changed her vote on the two projects because of concessions.

"I was concerned about my own well-being"

Perhaps the most telling bit of testimony yesterday came when Mangone explained to prosecutors some past evasive behavior when talking with Longfellow developer Franco Milio, who himself had signed a cooperation agreement with investigators and who Mangone thought was wearing a wire.

Mangone said he tried to steer Milio away from discussing the cash payments Milio passed on to him for Jereis.

Why, asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone.

"I was concerned about my own well-being," replied Mangone, who seemed straightforward and a bit resigned, though, given his record, defense lawyers surely have placed doubt about him.

Concern about personal well-being may well have motivated many of the parties in the case. Defense lawyers, for example, got former Forest City executive Bruce Bender to acknowledge that his own compensation would have been boosted thanks to the success of the Ridge Hill project.

Bender wasn't able to estimate a number, saying the formula was complex, based on future assessed value. By contrast, Bender's deputy and close associate, Scott Cantone, said he would not have benefited from such a bonus. Cantone is leaving Forest City Ratner soon to join Bender in a consulting firm.

The Longfellow payment

It turns out, as noted in Journal News coverage, Annabi trial: Mangone says lie protected Nick Spano; bribe testimony differs, that Mangone claimed that in 2006 the Milios passed on $20,000 in two installments to him to give to Jereis for Annabi; however, the Milios had said it was a $30,000 payment in one installment.

In the final question on direct examination from Carbone, Mangone said he'd told the FBI "that I had given

Earlier, he acknowledged, he'd told his law partners that "I was simply going to say the money given to Zehy was a consulting fee." (Note that Forest City Ratner hired Jereis as a consultant after Annabi's vote.)

As reported by the Journal News, Mangone "claimed Jereis told him Annabi had been 'hounding him for money'” that summer before she went on a trip to Jordan," and that Jereis first requested $100,000, but agreed to $20,000 since Mangone was expecting that sum as a “success fee.”

Going after the witness

In testimony I heard in the early afternoon, Jereis's lawyer, Anthony Siano, vigorously pressed Mangone, a lawyer now disbarred.

Did Mangone take courses in criminal law and professional responsibility, Siano asked, and take an oath of office?

The answer of course was yes.

"While you were attending St. John's [Law School], did the professors communicate that lying under oath was a bad thing to do?" asked Siano, whose style contains no small measure of sarcasm.

Yes, acknowledged Mangone. 

The Spano save

That led Siano to press him about grand jury testimony a decade ago, regarding Mangone's efforts to fix the write-in Green Party primary for Spano by using absentee ballots.

"You lied to those grand jurors in order to protect your political patron, Nick Spano?" Siano asked.

"Yes," replied Mangone, who also agreed he'd falsely said that Spano didn't know about his efforts.

Mangone testified in the trial of Dennis Wedra, whom Siano called a "political mercenary," pursuant to a cooperation agreement with Westchester County District Attorney's office, led by Jeanine Pirro, whose (now separated) husband Al Pirro, a local powerbroker and admitted felon, later worked as a lobbyist for Forest City Ratner.

Mangone signed a cooperation agreement, agreeing to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for his testimony. But he was never charged by the grand jury--and admitted to lying to it, despite an agreement to testify truthfully before the trial jury.

But Mangone lied to that trial jury. "You did it because you were protecting your political benefactor, Nick Spano," Siano asked.

"Yes," Mangone said, admitting that he had perjured himself.

Wedra, Siano related, had asked for $50,000, but Mangone and Spano persuaded him to work for $15,000, and agreed on a scheme to pay him not from Spano's Senate campaign committee but a committee led by Spano's sister.

But Mangone, not the sister, had signed but blank checks, and wrote them not to Wedra, but to a political action funds. "You told the jury it would hide the flow of money from the public and press," Siano related.

Mangone agreed.

Mangone, as noted by the Journal News, "stayed on Spano’s staff for several more years after that and also got a job soon after the trial at a law firm with ties to Spano." The latter, queried last night by the newspaper, would not comment.

A law firm and a state Senator

Mangone joined a firm known at one point as Santangelo, Servino and Mangone and at times under other names.

"The firm had a contract to provide services for a particular county," Siano related, "and your partners agreed to pay the person responsible for the contract cash payments. On at least one occasional, you made a cash payoff."

Mangone agreed.

"The state Senator who caused the contract, he asked you and your partners to place an individual on your staff?" Siano asked. [The name was not specified, but it may have been Spano ally Vincent Leibell, who has since pleaded guilty to corruption charges.]

Mangone said no, it was another state senator.

The state Senator promised "he'd get you so much work you'd have to build a wing" on your office, Siano related.

The new hire was Matt Libous, son of state Senator Tom Libous, who, according to testimony, got the law firm to raise his son's salary from $50,000 to $100,000. But when the Senator asked the partners to raise the salary to $150,000, they balked.

[I'm checking with Libous's office for comment.]

Mangone, related Siano, had told the FBI that the partners had become very dissatisfied with Matt Libous, because he missed court appearances.

Libous was assigned to the Milio Management account. "Did you tell the Milios that the reason Matt Libous was on staff was [because of] a payoff?"

"No," Mangone replied.

"He was let go because no one delivered on the promise of new business?" Siano asked.

Yes, replied Mangone, adding that "we couldn't afford him."

Doing business in cash, and gambling some away

Siano got Mangone to agree that the law firm sometimes received payments in cash, but did not log them in accounts receivable.

The firm also maintained "attorney trust accounts," purportedly protecting clients' money, though Mangone agreed he'd used money from those accounts to cover markers at several casinos.

Mangone, who admitted to "a substantial gambling habit between 2004 and 2008," agreed he'd visited some 27 casinos in 2006. And though he had a credit limit at some ranging up to $20,000, he was banned from some casinos.

In 2007 and 2008, at just two Atlantic City casinos, Mangone had compiled gambling debts of about $149,000.

Siano, challenging Mangone with a 2004 credit application the latter had made to a casino, asked Mangone if he had reported a total gross income of $265,000--apparently the figure in the casino document--on his federal income tax return.

"I don't recall," Mangone replied.

Trial resumes Monday

The trial resumes Monday, with Mangone still facing cross-examination from Siano, who has not yet gotten to the Longfellow project.

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