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January 7, 2010

Yonkers pol Sandy Annabi took bribe to OK Ratner deal, feds say

NY Daily News
by Robert Gearty and Greg B. Smith

Has there ever been a more apropos federal indictment alias than Forest City Ratner's "Developer No. 2?"

Developer Bruce Ratner's company agreed to hire the cousin of a former Yonkers councilwoman if the pol dropped her opposition to one of his major projects, prosecutors and other sources say.

The stunning conflict emerged in the indictment Wednesday of Yonkers Councilwoman Sandy Annabi and her cousin Zehy Jereis, a former Yonkers official.

Annabi, Jereis and a local lawyer were hit with multiple charges, brought by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, in a bribery and extortion scheme.

Ratner confirmed that his firm, Forest City Ratner, was the "Developer No. 2" named in the indictment. The project at issue was a huge residential/commercial project in Yonkers called Ridge Hill.

Annabi opposed Ratner's project. Then, in June 2006, Jereis was introduced to unnamed reps of Developer No. 2 who promised to arrange a meeting with Annabi, the indictment states.

After Jereis and Annabi met with Forest City reps at a Brooklyn restaurant, Jereis asked Forest City to give him a job, the indictment and sources state.

The potential quid pro quo emerged in a June 28, 2006, "agreement in principle" in which Developer No. 2 "agreed to give Jereis a job sometime after Annabi formally voted in favor of the Ridge Hill project," the indictment alleged.

Two weeks later, Annabi switched her vote. In October 2006, Developer No. 2 signed a contract hiring Jereis as a "real estate consultant" for $60,000 at $5,000 a month.

Jereis had no real estate experience and the contract was backdated two months.

Although the contract required Jereis to submit invoices, he didn't until word leaked of an FBI investigation in March 2007. Jereis then sent Forest City seven months worth of backdated invoices.

At no time during these meetings and agreements with Jereis did Ratner go to the FBI, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

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More coverage...

The New York Times, Ex-Official in Yonkers Faces Charges of Corruption

Oops! The Times forgot to mention that "Developer No. 2" was "Developer No. 1" of its Manhattan headquarters building!

A former Yonkers city councilwoman was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of accepting nearly $167,000 in cash and gifts in exchange for dropping her opposition to two contentious developments, including a $630 million project that is the city’s largest private undertaking.
...

The investigation began in 2008, about two years after Ms. Annabi voted to enable a $630 million residential and commercial project by Forest City Ratner known as Ridge Hill, to move forward. Shortly after Ms. Annabi cast her vote, Forest City hired Mr. Jereis as a consultant at $60,000 a year.

AP via 1010WINS, Yonkers Councilwoman Accused of Accepting Bribes

Although the indictment incriminates the unidentified developers, Bharara would not discuss why they were not named in the indictment or charged.
...

According to the indictment, the Ridge Hill developer, Forest City Ratner Cos., held a meeting with Jereis and Annabi during which Jereis asked for a consulting job. Annabi reversed her vote five days later and Jereis got a $60,000 position, it says.

LoHud.com, Yonkers residents express surprise, dismay over former Council member's indictment

Martin McGloin helped organize a group called Community First! to oppose the Ridge Hill Village project. McGloin said he was not surprised by the accusations against Annabi, who changed her opposition to both Ridge Hill and the Longfellow School at the last minute.

"I've read the indictment. Obviously they must have hard evidence for what they're putting in the indictment," McGloin said.

"There was a lot of back-room dealing among the council members with the developers," he said.

LoHud.com, Yonkers indictments: Greenburgh considers reopening lawsuit vs. Ridge Hill

The town may reopen its lawsuit against the Ridge Hill development, saying the project's environmental impact study may have been compromised if former Yonkers Councilwoman Sandy Annabi took a bribe to support of the controversial development.

Greenburgh filed a suit against the developers over concerns with the size and traffic impact of the mixed-use Yonkers project near the town's border. The town settled the case in 2007, though town Supervisor Paul Feiner said he and other board members were still concerned about the traffic impact. Outside legal counsel specializing in land use advised the town to settle since the Yonkers City Council supported the project, Feiner said.
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The Town Board could direct the town attorney to review possible legal action when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall, 177 Hillside Ave.

LoHud.com, Reisman: Scandal runs deeper than Annabi

This is the tip of the iceberg. It has to be.

No one who has spent any time watching Yonkers and its sad Byzantine history of cronyism, greed and shady deal making believes that the deal to smooth the way for a couple of major developments could possibly begin and end with only a vain councilwoman and the two political hacks.

There must be more.
...

Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District said, at Wednesday's news conference that the federal investigation into Yonkers corruption is continuing. He did not discount the possibility of more indictments.

LoHud.com, Loss of Faith, Destruction of Trust

Columnist Phil Reisman follows up today's column (above) on his blog.

It’s really come to this. Things are so bad in the way of corruption, legislative gridlock and greed that David Paterson, the governor of the greatest state in the greatest country in the world, used his State of the State Address yesterday to lecture lawmakers on the myriad ways they’ve destroyed the people’s trust.
...

His address to the 212-member den of thieves came just an hour or so after a federal indictment was handed down in White Plains accusing former Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi of accepting $166,000 in bribes to, in effect, help grease the wheels for two major development projects. One of them was the $600 million Ridge Hill project, a massive undertaking by the Forest City Ratner group, which is the same outift, incidentally, that is remaking an entire neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Ridge Hill will now forever be associated with corruption—that’s how critical Annabi’s vote was. If the allegations against her hold up, then it can always be said that Yonkers can bought for the price of a condo, a Rolex watch and a couple of vacation trips.

Posted by eric at January 7, 2010 5:35 PM