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February 28, 2012

Forest City's Bender, Cantone testify in Ridge Hill trial; no quid pro quo in Jereis hiring, but they strung him along until Annabi voted; developer nearly desperate, ordered Spano to get his brother's help

Atlantic Yards Report

Today was no red-letter day for developer Forest City Ratner. Though not charged in the Yonkers corruption case, two key Forest City executives involved in the $650 million Ridge Hill project--Scott Cantone and Bruce Bender--took the stand and had to explain the company's curious and even desperate behavior in ensuring the project's approval.

Surely the federal jury must have wondered why exactly the developer--the greatest beneficiary of the alleged bribes paid by defendant Zehy Jereis, a former Yonkers Republican chairman, to defendant Sandy Annabi, a former Yonkers Council Member--remains unscathed.

After all, they were concerned about Jereis's persistent requests for a consulting gig, which began before Annabi's vote, so they strung him along, and finally signed him up a few months after Annabi changed her vote in mid-2006 to green-light Ridge Hill.

Defense attorneys did get the Forest City government relations executives to acknowledge that Jereis never requested a quid pro quo. And the execs acknowledged that Annabi never knew anything about Jereis's requests. Nor did they know Jereis had funneled money to her.

What Norman Oder means is that they claimed, under oath no less, that they didn't know Jereis funneled money to Annabi.

And prosecutors, gingerly managing their not-quite-squeaky-clean witnesses, got Bender and Cantone to affirm that no, they would never have hired Jereis for what was essentially a no-show job had they known he had been paying Annabi's bills. (Then again, Cantone testified last week that they wouldn't have hired Jereis if he hadn't helped get Annabi's vote.)

So they wouldn't have hired Jereis if he was bribing Annabi to support their project, but they also wouldn't have hired him if he didn't get her support for their project. Uh huh.

Ultimately, the testimony illuminated the urgent, nearly desperate posture of Forest City, which had committed at least $70 million on Ridge Hill, found factionalized Yonkers politics "crazy," found a unique situation given that Annabi wouldn't even meet with them, and didn't want to see their investment go sour.

After lobbyist Mike Spano, who's now the mayor of Yonkers, told Bender that he and others had been unable to budge Annabi, Bender replied pungently in an email: "No fucking around. Get Sandy on board. Tell your brother we need help now."

But don't bribe her [wink, wink], or we won't pay you for a no-show job.


NoLandGrab: And if you believe that Cantone and Bender didn't perjure themselves, we have an arena in Brooklyn to sell you.

Related coverage...

The Journal News, Executive testifies: No deal to get Annabi to end her opposition to Ridge Hill

The developer of the Ridge Hill project in Yonkers would not have hired political operative Zehy Jereis as a consultant if it was known he had a financial relationship with Councilwoman Sandy Annabi, an executive of the developer, Forest City Ratner.

But during testimony today at the federal corruption trial of Annabi and Jereis, executive Scott Cantone also insisted that there was never any quid pro quo between hiring Jereis and getting Annabi to end her opposition to Ridge Hill and cast the deciding vote for it in 2006.

NLG: Sure, "no fucking around. Get Sandy on board" with Jedi mind tricks.

Posted by eric at February 28, 2012 12:13 PM