In early January the Southern District US Attorney's Office indicted former Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi, former Yonkers GOP Leader (and Annabi cousin) Zehy Jereis and Westchester County attorney Anthony Mangone for conspiracy, bribery, extortion, false statement and tax crimes.
The Annabi and Jereis indictments revolve around developer Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill development project and the Councilwoman's approval the developer sought for the project.
(Forest City Ratner and its CEO Bruce Ratner are the same developers embroiled in the mega-controversy over the Atlantic Yards mega-project in Brooklyn.)
In a nutshell, Annabi was indicted for taking bribes to flip her crucial nay to a yea on the project's approval vote in 2006.
To be clear, none of Ratner's representatives (aka Developer No. 2 in the indictment) have been indicted or accused. But the facts alleged in the indictments speak for themselves and do not shine a positive light on the developer. The implications are unsavory and enormous.
Forest City, for its part, has claimed that it is has been told that it is not a target of the investigation and that it has "cooperated" with the US Attorney's office. But the Ridge Hill investigation, according to the US Attorney in published reports, is ongoing.
The headline of a January 6 press release from the US Attorney's Office announced "United States Attorney Charges Former Democratic Majority Leader of Yonkers City Council, Former Yonkers Republican Party Chief and Attorney With Public Corruption Crimes." A January 7th New York Daily News article, "Yonkers Pol Sandy Annabi Took Bribe To OK Ratner Deal, Feds Say," stated, "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 indictment alleges that after numerous failed attempts by Forest City to lobby Councilwoman Annabi, she and Zehy Jereis met with Ratner's representatives at a restaurant. At that meeting Ratner's reps agreed that they'd give Jereis a $60,000 "consulting" job (for which he was not qualified) after Annabi voted in favor of Ridge Hill. There was soon a second meeting and five days later Annabi flipped her opposition to the project. She then issued a press release, drafted by Jereis and Ratner reps, to inform the public of her new found support for the project.
According to the Daily News article, "At no time during these meetings and agreements with Jereis did Ratner go to the FBI, according to two sources familiar with the investigation."
Annabi and Jereis were indicted for bribery but nobody from Forest City Ratner was. Obviously, Forest City Ratner was the primary and intended beneficiary of Annabi's about-face.
I've spoken with many confounded Brooklynites familiar with the indictments who wonder why nobody from Forest City Ratner has been indicted in the Yonkers public corruption case along with the others now facing criminal charges. By not holding Forest City Ratner accountable for the actions alleged in the indictment there is, yet again, an appearance of favoritism, which appears thus far to have let Ratner's company escape prosecution for what may well be very serious crimes.
When is Attorney General Cuomo going to investigate the wrongdoing in Yonkers and Forest City Ratner's role in it? A first step for the yet-to-be-officially-announced gubernatorial candidate would be to return the $5,000 donation Bruce Ratner gave him because of the clear implications of the Ridge Hill indictments.
Sure, the Yonkers investigation is ongoing and more indictments may come or information that might clarify Forest City Ratner's involvement in this case may be presented in due course. But until the time that US Attorney Preet Bharara makes those clarifications apparent, many of us will continue to wonder why an alleged bribe, with the alleged involvement and agreement of Ratner representatives, is not being fully prosecuted.
Perhaps Forest City Ratner's people were given immunity to turn on Jereis and Annabi. Perhaps Westchester DA Janet DiFiore will pursue her own investigation of the bribery that allegedly took place in her county.
What of those government entities doing business with Forest City Ratner for Atlantic Yards and other projects?
New York State's Empire State Development Corporation and the City (the Mayor and the Economic Development Corporation) have a duty to conduct their own inquiry (utilizing respective City and State investigative offices) of Forest City Ratner's involvement in the Ridge Hill case and satisfy themselves that there are no issues concerning the company's integrity. That is standard operating procedure when negative information about a current government contractor comes to light--even for rather flimsy allegations, let alone serious indications of misconduct in a federal indictment. If the City and State have not already done this, or it is not being done, it raises serious questions about improper favoritism.
It also seems that the Kings County District Attorney's Office has the responsibility to conduct its own investigation of the Ridge Hill project based on the indictment's allegations that a legally questionable quid pro quo occurred amongst the Brooklyn's most powerful developer, the indicted former Councilwoman Annabi and the indicted former GOP boss Jereis, in order to change the vote of an elected, public official.
And while Attorney General Hynes' office is at it, they ought to commence an investigation into Forest City Ratner's actions while trying to bring Atlantic Yards to fruition. Many Brooklyn residents and organizations have questioned the naked--and suspicious--favoritism granted Ratner and the legality of Forest City Ratner's deals with public officials in its pursuit of the Atlantic Yards project.
Smoke in Yonkers could signal a fire in Brooklyn.