Monday, November 12, 2012

Lawyer for Yonkers political operative calls for leniency, suggests (un-charged) Forest City Ratner was the big winner in corruption case

As sentencing Nov. 19 approaches for a former Yonkers elected official and her political mentor, both convicted in a corruption case involving two real estate projects, the lawyer for the political operative has asked the judge to look at the larger picture.

And that picture suggests that neither operative Zehy Jereis nor former Council Member Sandy Annabi were as big winners as Forest City Ratner, developer of the Ridge Hill mall and office project.

(The developer was not charged; its behavior, though not criminal, was less than sterling.)

A call for leniency

Much of the pre-sentencing memo prepared by Jereis's attorney argues for a lighter sentence than guidelines suggest, based on Jereis's character in the community. As the Journal News reported 11/9/12, in Zehy Jereis' lawyer urges leniency in Yonkers corruption sentence:
Former Yonkers GOP chairman Zehy Jereis deserves significant leniency when sentenced in his federal corruption case because of his ongoing community service and the care he provides his ill mother, his lawyer says in court papers.
Although sentencing guidelines call for more than a decade in prison, defense lawyer Anthony Siano this week asked U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon to impose a sentence in the range of 10 to 18 months with some of that served under community confinement. He also requested that Jereis be allowed to remain free while he appeals his conviction.
“In all respects, Mr. Jereis has evinced by his actions and not merely in words, that his actions in his life were motivated by a desire to help others and not by profit,” Siano wrote in his pre-sentence memorandum, which included letters from 56 relatives, friends, tenants and political associates seeking leniency for Jereis.
The letter-writers also include his employees at a car wash in East New York, Brooklyn. (Here's coverage of Annabi's pre-sentencing memo.)

The big picture

Siano's memo also points to the big picture. Though Jereis provided Annabi with some $194,000 over the years, including a $60,000 loan promptly repaid, the money apparently came from his own resources.

"Taking the government's evidence on its face," Siano wrote, Jereis received no more than $25,000 from the real estate projects--$15,000 in fees after Forest City Ratner hired him for a $60,000-a-year no-show job after Annabi flipped her vote, and a $10,000 bribe related to the other project, known as Longfellow.

"At no time did he seek, receive, or have any equity or financial interest in either the Ridge Hill project or the Longfellow project," Siano wrote. "The benefits he conveyed upon Ms. Annabi were largely his own money and were paid out from his own checking account, in his own name."

Forest City the winner

"The evidence in the trial established that Forest City Ratner expended millions of dollars on lobbyists, consultants, and related opinion makers of all kinds. It was the Forest City Ratner interests alone that owned and profited from the Ridge Hill project," Siano wrote. "And indeed, it was solely the Forest City Ratner personnel that decided if, when, and why to hire Mr. Jereis and what they would pay him."

"Nothing in the testimony of the Forest City Ratner witnesses establishes any causal connection or quid pro quo type rational for their hiring of and payment of fifteen thousand dollars to Mr. Jereis," Siano wrote. Forest City's former government relations Executive VP Bruce Bender testified that it was "inconclusive" that they had promised Jereis a job, but "we certainly left the impression we were probably going to do it."

Siano pointed to one similarity between Longfellow and Ridge Hill: "the government's chosen witnesses themselves were going to profit," including equity gains and profits (the Longfellow developers, the Milios); continued legal fees (cooperating witness Anthony Mangone); and bonuses and raises (Bender and Scott Cantone, Forest City Ratner executives at the time).

"Despite these admitted profit motives centered on others, the government has prosecuted Mr. Jereis, and this Court must determine what punishment is proper for Mr. Jereis for his behavior," Siano wrote.

The Annabi relationship

The letters focused on Jereis's generosity to his family, friends, and others, including his close relationship to his children and his mother. Nearly everyone avoided Jereis's defense that his payments derived from his infatuation with Annabi, thus undermining his image as a family man.

One of his sisters, however, suggested an explanation: "The reason why my brother is in this situation is his heart, not BRIBERY. Sandy [Annabi] and people took his love and kindness for granted."

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