Monday, May 13, 2013

Another corruption case, another potential domino leading to Forest City Ratner: Melvin Lowe mentioned (not charged)

I speculated 4/5/13 whether the political corruption charges against Queens state Senator Malcolm Smith could eventually touch Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, given the close connection between Smith and former business partner, Darryl Greene, who works as a consultant for Forest City on minority contracting.

Well, it's been a busy month. Brooklyn state Sen. John Sampson, who once held a fundraiser at FCR offices, was charged last week with embezzlement, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

Then came the revelation that Queens state Sen. Shirley Huntley, in an effort to reduce an expected sentence for her own corruption, had surreptitiously recorded meetings with seven elected officials and two political operatives, one of whom has worked for Forest City. 

The information came from Huntley's lawyer, not law enforcement officials, so the release of names cannot be seen as suspicion of guilt--and many of those recorded have responded that they're clean. As the Daily News reported, federal prosecutors said "the Huntley recordings produced evidence 'useful to law enforcement' regarding three of the seven — without naming names."

Along with Sampson and Smith,  the other Democratic Senators taped were Eric Adams of Brooklyn, Ruth Hassell-Thompson of Mount Vernon, José Peralta of Queens, and Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn. Queens Council Member Ruben Wills was recorded, as were former Senate employees Curtis Taylor and Melvin Lowe.

Who's Melvin Lowe?

The Post reported today:
The fact that the feds directed Huntley to try to tape Lowe — whom Sampson brought in as his political guru during his brief but stormy tenure as the Senate leader — had state capital insiders buzzing that more bombshells could drop in the Albany corruption investigation.
Lowe made a tidy sum during his one-year tenure. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee [DSCC] paid his two firms — G&L consulting and Prestige Strategic Communications — a combined $250,000 in 2009-10.
Around the same time, Sampson paid Lowe an additional $150,000 from his personal campaign committee — even though the Brooklyn pol did not face a tough re-election fight.
Senate Democratic insiders snickered that Lowe was being overpaid and wondered what he actually did for the money.
“There was shock that Lowe was getting paid through two different companies. The whole thing was highly irregular and fishy,” said one Senate source.
Capitol Tonight had it first, reporting 5/8/13:
At the time he was added to the DSCC roster, Lowe was also a consultant to developer Bruce Ratner on the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn – a connection that made some members of the Democratic conference (not to mention opponents of Atlantic Yards) veryunhappy.
While working for Ratner, Lowe was also involved in the Ridge Hill development project in Yonkers and was among the people mentioned in subpoenas that came out of the local U.S. Attorney’s office related to the passage of that project.
Democratic conference members were also not happy to learn in 2010 that Lowe had earned over $300,000 from the DSCC through two companies that were set up to appear as separate entites but were actually run and solely operated by Lowe himself.
City&State reported in 2010 that Lowe’s past also includes a stint as the chair of the CUNY Student Senate in the 1980s in which he was involved in some questionable financial dealings at the time, had to be brought to court to compel him to call a new election and was ultimately forced to resign from the position after it was revealed that he was serving in the position, which came complete with stipend and staff, while no longer actually registered as a student at CUNY.
Campaign contributions, and a curious donation comes up in court

My coverage last year rounded up some previous coverage of Lowe, including the curious information that he worked for former Council Member Tracy Boyland when she challenged Atlantic Yards opponent Montgomery in 2006, as well as made large campaign contributions to a number of people, including AY supporter Council Member Darlene Mealy.

Lowe's name came up tangentially in the federal corruption trial last year involving former Yonkers Council Member Sandy Annabi and her political mentor Zehy Jereis.

Bruce Bender, who'd recently resigned as chief of external affairs for Forest City, was on the stand, being queried by Annabi's attorney, William Aronwald, as reported 2/29/12.

"Are you familiar with a company known as Westchester Invaders?" Aronwald asked. "Isn't it true Forest City Ratner made a contribution of $10,000 to Westchester Invaders at Council Member [Patricia] McDow's or [FCR lobbyist] Melvin Lowe's request?"

"I can't recall," Bender said.

Westchester Invaders is a drum and bugle corps that McDow has saluted, but I couldn't find corroborating evidence of a Forest City Ratner contribution. Then again, it would not be out of line with company practices in Brooklyn, which however questionable, remain legal. At another moment in the trial, Aronwald pointed out that Lowe was tasked with getting McDow's support.

Was that nefarious? Not necessarily. But if the feds have something on Lowe, like any other defendant, he might seek leniency through cooperation.

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