Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…