Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Yonkers trial: evidence that Council Member Annabi fudged numbers to get home loans, didn't disclose help from Jereis

With the departure of witnesses from developer Forest City Ratner and Anthony Mangone, the admitted felon who's trying to get a break by testifying, the Yonkers corruption trial has moved into a somewhat drier phase, as prosecutors emphasize documents in their efforts to make the case against former Council Member Sandy Annabi and her distant cousin and one-time campaign manager, Zehy Jereis.

But the proceeding yesterday in federal court began with some contentiousness between the competing legal teams.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Halperin called U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon's attention to an interview Annabi's attorney William Aronwald had given to News12, the Westchester television outlet, regarding Mangone, who testified that he passed on money from developer Milio Management to Jereis, but also admitted many lies and ethical violations.

Aronwald, according to Halperin, had said, "We're on our way to hopefully convincing this jury that [Mangone] is not at all credible for anything."

Aronwald protested that, "if that's all they shared, it was taken out of context."

"Even so," responded McMahon, "no more interviews."

The prosecution phase of the case is expected to conclude Thursday or Monday.

Flurries of phone calls, including to a jeweler

The first witness was FBI intelligence analyst Joseph Enright, who complied lists of phone calls involving Annabi, Jereis, Mangone, and Franco Milio, developer of the Longfellow project, one of two projects--the other being Forest City's Ridge Hill--for which Annabi is charged with changing her vote thanks to Jereis's influence, cash, and gifts worth some $170,000, including some $7,000 for a watch and a necklace.

Enright, who began his testimony Monday, analyzed 3809 contacts among the four subjects, including calls and texts, though he confirmed that he had no record of the content of such contacts, nor who was actually using the phones, nor whether some of the very brief calls registered were actually completed.

In 2006, for example, there were 77 contacts on November 9, two days after election day, 55 on September 12, which was primary day, and 47 and 46 on two occasions in June, when both the Ridge Hill and Longfellow issues were heating up. June was by far the busiest month, with 623 contacts.

Jereis had 56 contacts with Forest City Ratner in June and 5 in July, which only seven others during the later part of the year. Annabi had 17 contacts with Forest City in June, 2 in July, and a total of 2 in the rest of the year.

Enright detailed sequences in which Jereis called T&R Jewelers in New Rochelle, then called Annabi a minute later, and when Annabi called the store, which then called Jereis.

Earlier in the trial, according to the Journal News, store owner Antonio Serrao testified that "Jereis referred her to the store that July and asked that Serrao get her what she wanted." Annabi "ordered a Rolex watch with a mother-of-pearl diamond bezel," for which she paid $3,847 in cash, and later "bought an 18-carat white gold necklace with a diamond cross for $3,251."

Enright acknowledged under cross-examination that he had not been given phone records gained under subpoena for Forest City Ratner executives Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone, nor for other Council Members who testified in the case.

Questionable loan documents

As described in today's Journal News, Prosecutors: Annabi mortgage applications gave fake tax documents, evidence produced yesterday showed that W-2 forms included with Annabi’s mortgage applications for two homes she bought exaggerated her income significantly, by at least $40,000 each, nor did she disclose that she was buying both at the same time, or that Jereis had supplied the down payments.

Her attorney Aronwald asked the witness, from a loan company, whether he knew of the loan officer at the time had falsified documents to make them more creditworthy. The witness said he didn't know.

Documents also showed that Annabi was paying $950 in rent for her family's apartment, but the landlord testified that Annabi's mother paid the rent, which never topped $550. Moreover, a document purported to be signed by Annabi's landlord was rather signed by an Annabi relative.

A CPA who prepared a preliminary version of Annabi's taxes in 2003 and 2004 testified that Annabi, when asked about whether Jereis had paid her loans or given her gifts, said "that never came up."

Bona fide loans or gifts, agreed Frank Rocco on cross examination, are not considered income. However, on redirect from prosecutors, he clarified that a bona fide gift is based on generosity, not if it's given in part for influencing official actions.

A friend's observations

Jereis's defense is that he was motivated by his desire for a relationship with Annabi. She denies such a relationship, but says her changed votes on Ridge Hill and Longfellow derived from the developers' concessions.

Maria Chousa, once Annabi's campaign treasurer and a close friend until they had a falling out, testified that the two of them met frequently with Jereis during the years 2001-05: "Every time we'd go out to dinner, he'd show up almost every time."

The topic was exclusively politics.

"What, if anything, do you know about whether Annabi and Jereis had a romantic relationship?" Halperin asked.

Chousa said no, "because he's not her type--she said that," injecting a moment of levity into a generally solemn proceeding.

Because the two houses Annabi bought in 2004 were outside her district, "in a very nice neighborhood," she also bought an apartment in her district, in a "not so nice neighborhood." But Chousa said that Annabi kept most of her clothes at one of the houses, where she appeared to be living with her parents and brothers.

Under cross-examination, Chousa acknowledged that she most frequently saw Annabi on the weekends.

Asked if Annabi said anything about Jereis helping lease her new $60,000 Mercedes, Chousa said "she didn't mention anything." (A manager at a local auto company had testified that Jereis had made the down payment on Annabi's lease.) Nor did Annabi say anything about Jereis helping her with the two houses and apartment.

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