How Many More Will be Swept into the Tide?
LostMessiah, April 14, 2016
After the arrest of Ramapo Councilman Samuel Tress on March 14, 2016 many of us in the blogosphere were just waiting to see how long it would take before more arrests came in.
We reported on zoning violations at yeshivas placing children at risk, of fires, of single family homes being used to house multiple families and the list goes on. It has been no secret that Christopher St. Lawrence has been in the pocket of the ultra-Orthodox community for years and that he has either closed his eyes or put morally challenged people into positions of power.
We are waiting at this point to see how many arrests will follow.
“Federal agents and District Attorney’s Office detectives arrested Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence Thursday morning on charges tied to the financing of the town’s controversial baseball stadium through its economic development agency.
St. Lawrence faces federal securities fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy charges in connection with municipal bonds.
A second, as yet unnamed person is also being charged in what the U.S. Attorney’s Office says is believed to be the first municipal bond-related securities fraud prosecution ever. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, and FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission officials have scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. in New York City.
St. Lawrence is expected to appear today in U.S. District Court in White Plains.
St. Lawrence, who also served as Ramapo Local Development Corporation chairman, is accused of overstating town assets when filing documents to obtain the $25 million in municipal bonds used to build Provident Bank Park off Route 45 outside Pomona in 2012.
Investigators also looked into the movement of money between the local development corporation and town accounts, including possible commingling of funds, and whether the LDC that oversaw the stadium project generated money and repaid the town.
The arrests came nearly three years after FBI agents and Rockland District Attorney’s Office detectives seized boxes of documents and computer hard drives on May 15, 2013, from Town Hall offices, including records from the finance department and the offices of the supervisor, town attorney and tax departments.
Deputy Supervisor Patrick Withers, a retired New York City police officer, said Thursday that the arrests were not surprising given the 2013 raid and the subpoenas for records from the town, its bond advisers, auditors and banks. Withers opposed much of the spending on the ballpark in the early stages until the facility was built and a state judge ruled it couldn’t be closed down.
“The arrest has cast a dark cloud over our town,” Withers said. “While the criminal charges filed are not a surprise, coming as they are on the heels of a multi-year federal investigation, the nature and extent of the charges are shocking.”
It was not immediately clear whether St. Lawrence would continue to try to carry out the duties of his office. Withers said he would ensure that town government would function as usual.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day said the arrest doesn’t bode well for faith in government.
“Elected officials are entrusted with the public’s money,” Day said. “When they squander it or use it inappropriately, trust in government is damaged. If these allegations are true, this is a very sad day in Ramapo and all of Rockland.”
Preet Bharara’s U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI had been working the case with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which can file civil charges for violations of federal law.
St. Lawrence’s critics, including the grassroots political party Preserve Ramapo, have accused him of manipulating financial regulations and laws to get the stadium built. They forced a public vote on the ballpark and filed lawsuits to try to block its construction, claiming the town would lose millions of dollars.
On Aug. 25, 2010, Ramapo voters overwhelmingly rejected a $16.5 million plan to finance the construction of the 4,500-seat baseball stadium for a team in the independent Can-Am League. The stadium had been known as “Project Grand Slam,” with a $20 to $25 million price tag. But the price ballooned to more than $60 million, according to a critical New York state Comptroller’s audit.
St. Lawrence promised not to use town funds for the stadium after the referendum defeat. But he then used the town to guarantee $25 million in bonds over five years issued for the LDC. The five-year period bypassed the law allowing for a public vote, a decision upheld by a state judge, who declined to stop construction of the ballpark and stadium.”