Yonkers’ Crazy Political Factions By HEZI ARIS
YONKERS, NY -- February 27, 2012 -- The Ridge Hill Development Project was defined within the recesses of the upper management of the Forest City Ratner Cos. (FCR) sometime in 2004. And it seemed that it took little time for opposing forces to coalesce their interests and concerns for the anticipated struggle among disparate forces, especially along the political divide. When called to the witness chair today, Bruce Bender, Forest City Ratner Vice-President who only this month left the firm to open a lobbying consultancy firm with fellow FCR alumni Scott Cantone disparagingly defined Yonkers replete with “crazy political factions.” Mr Cantone today concluded the testimony that began with him at the witness chair on Friday. When the government and cross-examination was concluded, the government called on Mr Bender. Mssrs Cantone and Bender seemingly corroborated each other’s recollections of circumstances and situations that dated as far back as 2005, albeit after what seemed like a grueling need to jog their memory to happenstance over which each had respectively given grand jury testimony.
It took awhile before William Aronwald, legal counsel representing former Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi, and Anthony Siano, legal counsel for former Yonkers GOP Chair Zehy Jeries, both facing alleged bribery charges, would find their lawyers “learned” to follow procedure the Honorable Colleen McMahon, Federal District Judge demanded. Judge McMahon pointed out that in order to jog the memory of a witness, the players must show the witnesses evidence in written form to that affect and not read the events to them. This took awhile. By the end of the day, the lawyers got it.
Scott Cantone and Bruce Bender each recollected a situation in which FCR had spent upwards of $80 million on a project over which Yonkers City Council President Richard Martinelli, Councilmen Liam McLaughlin (District 4), Dennis Robertson (District 3), and Councilwoman Patrica McDow were for approval of the Ridge Hill Development Project, while Councilwomen Dee Barbato(District 6), Sandy Annabi (District 2), and Councilman John Murtagh were against the project.
Bender defined himself as frustrated, rather than angry over FCR’s inability to persuade Ms Barbato, Ms Annabi, and Mr Murtagh to support the project. While Ms Barbato and Mr Murtagh engaged FCR in some dialogue, they were regarded as incalcitrant. Ms Annabi demanded traffic mitigation, return on investment, as well as creating a special education fund. Until her terms were met, there was nothing she believed spending time discussing. Even so, Bender could and would expose his anger. In an email to Mike Spano, when Mike Spano was an employee of the lobbying group Patricia Lynch Associasts, Bender wrote, " "No fucking around. Get Sandy on board. Tell your brother we need help now. I have to close this and take care of my family."
FCR hired lobbyist Al Pirro, Patricia Lynch Associates, specifically because New York State Assemblyman Mike Spano was a lobbyist for the firm, and because Mike Spano’s, brother New York State Senator Nick Spano could bear influence over the Yonkers City Coucilmembership who had yet to come aboard in support of the project. Al Pirro was supposed to work his charms on Barbato, Murtagh, and Annabi. So too were Mike Spano, Nick Spano, and Paticia Lynch Associates. Mel Lowe was specifically meant to turn Patricia McDow around. He did.
In time, Richard Martinelli lost the Yonkers City Council President seat to Chuck Lesnick. Lesnick worked to mitigate the need for a 5-2 super majority vote by working his charm with Westchester County to create legislation that would not require a supermajority vote. That legislation was devised and earned passage by the Westchester County Planning Board. That would come to pass and negated the need for a fifth vote.
Before the legislative effort to mitigate the need for a supermajority would come about, the effort to cajole one more Yonkers City Councilperson to the support column continued in earnest.
One thing became evident on Monday, and that was that all the "professional" lobbyists, Al Pirro, Mike Spano, Nick Spano, Patricia Lynch Associates, Anthony Mangone, former legal counsel to Senator Nick Spano, even St. Joseph’s Medical Center president and CEO Michael Spicer, Ms Annabi’s employer, could not coerce Ms Annabi from demanding a better deal.
Bringing the protagonists together began with an invite from Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (50th A.D.), representing Brooklyn, when the venue on June 2, 2006, was the Marco Polo Ristorante. Assemblyman Lentol attended, Mssrs Bender, Cantone,Zehy Jeris, and Joe Galimi, a friend of Assemblyman Lentols’ and a now retired City of Yonkers employee.
On June 9th, Sandy Annabi went to an afternoon meeting with Mssrs Bender, Cantone, Richard Pessin (FCR), and Jereis at Jake's, the steakhouse located on Broadway, near the 242nd Street #1 subway line. It was at that meeting that Annabi and Pessin got into a heated exchange in which Cantone admits to kicking his boss under the table in the shins. An admitted Cantone behavior pattern that had occurred oftentimes at Cantone’s admission.
After the June 9th meeting, Bender wrote an email to Bruce Ratner satting, "We had a good meeting with Sandy. We offered $10 mil over 3 years in tax and we are $2 mil short to make the deal, or 700K short over 3 years. I think we have to make the deal."
On June 10th, Ratner responded to Bender summation of the meeting the night before saying, "Thank you for your confidence. Let's see if we can bring this home this month. We may have to put some funds away for [Yonkers City Council President Chuck] Lesnick and traffic. There's a good chance that this money will never be drawn down.
"Galimi had requested a job with FCR on his first meeting.
Jereis also asked for a consultancy job. His bringing Annabi to a discussion with Cantone and Bender was not a quid pro quo but it was thought to be such by Bender. Cross-examination proved Jereis was a gentleman, didn’t make remarks such as “you owe me,” or ever became belligerent in any way.
Eventually Jereis was hired under a backdated contract that was claimed to have been for $60,000, but in reality paid only $15,000, or 25 percent of what was spoken about and later alleged.
An additional meeting took place at Madison’s Restaurant on Riverale Avenue, in the Riverdale section of The Bronx on June 14th. Attending that meeting were Ms Annabi, Mssrs Bender, Cantone, Jereis, and Pessin. At that meeting Annabi advised she would cast her vote for the project as had been agreed. FCR was to create a special education fund, add $10.8 million in tax revenue over a 10 years period, and certain traffic mitigation concerns would also be addressed.
On June 28th, at a Dunkin Donuts, located on Central Avenue, Bender and Cantone gave Jereis the consultancy he had desired, two weeks after the City Council vote was cast approving the project.
Cross-examination suggested but could not confirm that Al Pirro earned between $1 and $2 million for his lobbying efforts, and Mike Spano $175,000 for his efforts. Previous testimony reavealed Dennis Robertson and former Mayor John Spencer also earned hefty deals through their lobbying eforts for FCR.