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March 22, 2012

Yonkers corruption case goes to jury after vastly different accounts from Jereis's lawyer, prosecutor

Atlantic Yards Report

Not one, but two, reports from Norman Oder on the final stages of the Yonkers corruption trial.

Rashomon at Ridge Hill moved toward a close yesterday in the Yonkers corruption trial: the lawyer for defendant Zehy Jereis conducted a powerful attack on the government's witnesses, while a prosecutor, in rebuttal, scoffed at the defense.

And after U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon delivered lengthy jury instructions in the afternoon, the jury this morning will begin deliberating on the fate of Jereis, former chairman of the Yonkers Republican Party, and his "political creation" (in the words of one witness), former Council Member Sandy Annabi.

"Are we ready?" McMahon asked Anthony Siano, the attorney for Jereis, charged with giving some $174,000 over seven years to Annabi. Prosecutors say it was to control Annabi politically, leading to her changed votes in favor of Forest City Ratner's massive Ridge Hill project and Milio Management's smaller Longfellow development. Jereis says it was desire.

"Oh yes, Your Honor," replied Siano.

He proceeded to deliver a theatrical performance, modulating his voice from righteous anger to sarcasm to faux wonder. There was no piece of evidence--conversation, email, document--that confirmed the alleged corrupt agreement, Siano insisted.

In rebuttal, a prosecutor responded to nearly everything raised by Siano and by Annabi's defense attorney, William Aronwald, but left one choice detail un-addressed: was there any other explanation for Jereis's dramatic makeover--losing 150 pounds, getting his teeth fixed--than his pursuit of Annabi?

And just as a prosecutor implicitly criticized Forest City Ratner for giving Jereis a no-show job after Annabi's vote, so Siano criticized the developer for pushing through payments to Jereis without questioning why he hadn't delivered the reports required by his consulting contract.

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Related coverage...

New York Magazine, At Yonkers Corruption Trial, the ‘Sugar Daddy’ Defense

There was uncontroverted evidence that Jereis, who ran Annabi's campaigns and served as a close advisor, had given her $174,000 (including a $60,000 loan, promptly repaid) over seven years. Prosecutors say the money was to keep Annabi on a string so she'd act appropriately when called upon — notably to change her vote to support Forest City Ratner's giant Ridge Hill retail/residential project.

Jereis, a married man about the same age as Annabi, gave a different explanation. He testified that he was infatuated with her and did everything he could — including losing 150 pounds and getting his teeth fixed — to try to win her love, which also included paying maintenance on her apartment, helping her lease a white Mercedes-Benz, and taking care of her utility and cable bills. Annabi did not take the stand during the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone scoffed at the idea, saying, "Their idea of a romantic time is a double date with Forest City Ratner executives at Jake's Steakhouse [in Riverdale]. That's not romance, it's corruption."

The Journal News, Yonkers corruption trial: Jurors start deliberations this morning on Annabi, Jereis

[Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Halperin] said the key evidence was how Annabi concealed the money Jereis spent on her for years: keeping it off her financial disclosure forms and tax returns and denying the financial benefits Jereis was giving her when asked about them by colleagues and FBI agents.

“Why all this hiding if you believe you’ve done nothing wrong?” Halperin asked jurors. “It reeked and they knew it. And they did not want it exposed.”

The New York Times, Federal Jury to Get Corruption Case From Yonkers

Mr. Jereis’s lawyer, Anthony J. Siano, introduced e-mails from Mr. Jereis to Ms. Annabi, apparently to show that his testimony had been genuine. “He was behaving like a lovesick fool,” Mr. Siano told the jury Wednesday.

But in a rebuttal argument, a prosecutor said the testimony of a government computer expert had raised “serious doubts” about the e-mails’ authenticity.

“This case wasn’t about love,” the prosecutor, Jason P. W. Halperin, told the jury. “It was all about the money.”

Posted by eric at March 22, 2012 11:35 AM