LostMessiah, March 3, 2016
This article is just published as Breaking News in Rockland County, New York.
The town of East Ramapo and it surrounding towns and hamlets have been plagued by changes in zoning, overdevelopment, improper voting by town Zoning Board of Appeals members and Ramapo Zoning Board Members, official misconduct, overexpansion and other irregularities.
Councilman Samuel Tress was arrested this afternoon “for voting to back a zoning change on a housing development he held a financial stake in – even though he had signed an affidavit stating he wouldn’t profit from his decisions as a Zoning Board of Appeals member.”
We are hoping that this is one in a long string of arrests. The article follows:
RAMAPO -Councilman Samuel Tress was arrested Thursday afternoon for voting to back a zoning change on a housing development he held a financial stake in —even though he had signed an affidavit stating he wouldn’t profit from his decisions as a Zoning Board of Appeals member.
Tress faces a felony charge of first-degree offering a false instrument and a misdemeanor count of official misconduct, according to the Rockland District Attorney’s Office.
Tress, who took office on the Town Board in January after years on the zoning board, will be arraigned in Ramapo on the charges later this afternoon.
The Rockland District Attorney’s Office detectives had been scrutinizing Tress’s vote on May 4, 2015, to approve multiple variances for the single-family house at 142 Blauvelt Road. Tress had denied Wednesday to a Journal News reporter that he earned a profit from the approval.
Tress cast the deciding vote to grant eight zoning variances for 142 Blauvelt Road in Monsey, prosecutors said, while failing to disclose to his financial interest in the property.
Tress had filed on May 14, 2015, a disclosure affirmation with the town asserting that he had not and would not engage in any activity that would provide a personal or pecuniary gain to himself in relation to his duties as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, prosecutors contend.
The investigation was conducted by the Public Corruption Task Force, which is comprised of the Rockland District Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Executive Assistant District Attorney Richard Kennison Moran will prosecute the case.
Documents obtained by The Journal News before the arrest show Tress and his wife contracted to sell the single-family house for $500,000 to builder Samuel Wettenstein of Spring Valley in May 2013. Wettenstein obtained a demolition permit from Ramapo for his plan to build three condominiums and three accessory apartments on the property.
But the couple ended up with a 40 percent share of the property when the development stalled and Tress and his wife were still owed $150,000, according to town documents on the variance vote and a November lawsuit Tress filed against the buyer. The case was dropped last month, according to a document in file with the Rockland County Clerk’s Office.
Tress signed an affidavit stating as a Zoning Board of Appeals member, he would not profit from his position. “With full knowledge and awareness, I affirm that I do not have, I have not engaged in and I will not engage in any activity that would provide a personal or pecuniary gain to myself, my spouse, or my dependents from the activity (activities) in which I now give (or am about to give) my services to the Town of Ramapo or any affiliated or associated board, commission or agency thereof.”
Tress served on the ZBA for years before getting elected in November to the Ramapo Town Board. In a September primary, Tress defeated Councilman Daniel Friedman, a fellow Democrat who fell out of favor with Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence.
Controversy has followed the Tress since The Journal News revealed before the election that he had a federal mail-fraud conviction and he lives in Lakewood, New Jersey. Tress initially said he rented a Monsey apartment, but clarified, “I’m not denying that I live in New Jersey, but I am most of the week in Monsey.”
As for the Blauvelt Road property, Tress has had financial ties to the single-family house since 1984, according to a court application filed in March 2009 to transfer ownership of the house and land under state religious law to Tress and his wife, Shulamis.
His late brother, Rabbi Avrohom Tress, was a founder in 1981 of the Kol Yaakov Torah Center, a school for Jews returning to Orthodox Judaism. Tress said in the document that he and his wife lived in the house rent-free and he worked as an instructor from September 1985 to June 1986.
In the March 2009 document, Tress said he paid the $140,000 mortgage and all the costs for the house but ownership remained under the name of Kol Yaakov Torah Center.
“However in truth and fact, the petitioner” – Kol Yaakov – “acted as a nominee on our behalf,” Tress says in the document. “We supplied the funds to purchase the house and have been paying the mortgage payments, maintenance and taxes since it was purchased in 1985. The petitioner has never paid any money for the purchase or upkeep of the house.”
Tress said in that 2009 affidavit that he and his wife “now desire to have the premises” in their name “since we are the true owners -because we may want to sell or mortgage the house in the future.”
Wettenstein originally planned to build three condominiums, three accessory apartments and storage space at the former school, according to the lawsuit and town planning department documents. Wettenstein expanded the size of the Blauvelt Road project without town approval by adding plans to build three additional condo units and then ran out of financing to complete the project, delaying payment to Tress, the lawsuit says.
The Ramapo Building Department obtained a court stop-work order last year because of the unauthorized expansion of the project, according to the lawsuit and town documents from the department. The lawsuit also contends the Wettensteins didn’t get Tress’s approval for the additional condominium units.
Tress sued Samuel and Aaron Wettenstein, another investor, in November 2015 when they failed to pay him the final $150,000 and provide Tress with one of the three accessory apartments as part of their contract.
The lawsuit states Samuel Wettenstein had paid Tress $350,000 on March 11, 2014.
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