By Norman Oder
The jury in the Yonkers corruption trial may have turned in a verdict, but U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is promising more to come, perhaps for those named in the case.
After some five weeks of testimony and more than four days of deliberation, a federal jury on March 29 convicted former Yonkers Council Member Sandy Annabi and her political mentor, Zehy Jereis, of several corruption charges related to Annabi’s 2006 vote changes in favor of two development projects, including Forest City Ratner’s Ridge Hill retail/residential project.
Prosecutors had argued that Jereis gave Annabi $194,000 (including a $60,000 loan promptly repaid) over seven years to essentially control her vote. Jereis testified that he was infatuated with Annabi, a distant cousin, though no other witness said they had more than a professional relationship–an odd one, given that Jereis chaired the Yonkers Republican Party and Annabi was a Democrat.
Annabi didn’t testify, though her lawyer told jurors that, while she may have manipulated a “sugar daddy,” she wasn’t a criminal. Jereis got what was essentially a no-show job from Forest City as a reward, and jurors agreed he got and shared a bribe from the developer of the other project, known as Longfellow. Still, his take, at least as alleged in this case, didn’t come close to the support he gave to Annabi.
Attorneys for both promised to appeal and, before that, to ask U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon to direct an acquittal; after all, McMahon did express skepticism, outside the hearing of the jury, whether Annabi and Jereis ever had a “meeting of the minds” regarding the plans alleged. Annabi’s lawyer asserted her vote flips derived from changes in the projects, though prosecutors called such changes minor.
Whether or not the verdict stands, some around Yonkers are surely wondering about a statement from Preet Bharara “that the investigation is ongoing.”
After all, prosecution witness Anthony Mangone, who had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery, and extortion in relation to Longfellow, testified that his mentor, former Republican State Sen. Nick Spano, had in fact known that Mangone had penciled in Spano’s name in absentee ballots a decade earlier. Spano, who had recently pleaded guilty to relatively minor tax charges, was not called to testify. Jereis once worked for Spano.
Mangone also testified that his former law firm, at the behest of state Deputy Senate Minority Leader Tom Libous, a Spano ally and top state Republican, had hired Libous’s son Matthew at an inflated salary, and were directed to bill a questionable consulting company to help pay him. Libous initially wouldn’t comment, but on March 31 flatly denied any quid pro quo or wrongdoing. Even so, Libous’s political rivals in Binghamton were emboldened by the testimony, but no immediate challenges came up.
Yonkers has been called “the city of hills where nothing is on the level,” and Jereis and Annabi might try to deal if they want a break on their sentences, which in both cases could exceed 12 years. Mike Spano, the city’s mayor and brother of Nick, told the Journal News that the verdict was a “turning point” for the city.
The newspaper wearily opined in an editorial that this was just one in a series of dismaying verdicts regarding area politicians, including Nick Spano and former Putnam County Sen. Vincent Leibell.
Could Annabi and the two Nick Spano deputies be the only Yonkers figures prosecutors have targeted? Two years ago, another Council Member, John Murtagh, observed, “I know Mr. Mangone and Mr. Jereis well enough, and I’ve had enough experience with them to know if these allegations are true, they would not have been, in my opinion, the masterminds of this.”
Brooklyn journalist Norman Oder writes the Atlantic Yards Report.
Trackback from your site.