CONFLICTS OF INTEREST OR A MARRIAGE OF INTERESTS: SHALOM LAMM, MAYOR CUOMO, SATMAR HASIDICS AND OSTERMAN & HANNA LLP
LostMessiah, April 30, 2016
Sometimes the story of people and their activities, whether shady or otherwise, does not come from a series of events but rather from a seemingly coincidental use of shared businesses or services, shared institutions of higher education and corresponding persons of interest. It is our view that Shalom Lamm’s engagement of the Osterman & Hanna LLP law firm in his quest to take over Sullivan County’s Bloomingburg and surrounding villages was strategically planned. We believe that the decision to engage the same firm now reported to have been hired by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide Joseph Percoco, is simply a way to buffer the governor. On the one hand, the Satmar community would be beholden to Cuomo and on the other hand, Cuomo could claim no knowledge of Lamm’s activities. Acting as the buffer zone, as well as community activists in pushing forward the agenda of the Satmar Community stood Terresa Bakner partner at Osterman.
According to reports, partner Terresa Bakner, has been instrumental in trying to push forward Lamm’s plans, advocating for its acceptance, speaking in front of townspeople to explain the process (of losing their identity). It is noted that Cuomo at different points in the history of Lamm and his Sullivan County takeover has also advocated for the dissolution of Bloomingburg, which arguably is to the ultimate benefit of Lamm.
Failed Messiah reported on the activities of Shalom Lamm as early as 2013, if not earlier. Failed Messiah described Lamm’s plans to build what was initially billed as a small development but actually intended, from its very inception, to be a new home of a Satmar community, with room to expand and increase. It was contemplated to be nearly 4 times the size of what the ‘informed public” were told; a plan created, drafted and proposed under cover of secrets, made “pretty and believable.”
Shalom Lamm is not only the son of the head of Yeshiva University but a friend to the Satmar community. He calls himself a developer, but few of his projects have been without major controversy. He has admitted that he will stop at nothing and has surrounded himself with people who it would seem are equally as morally challenged, and certainly no less wiling to feed on the vulnerability of a financially stressed community to the benefit of an ever expanding ultra-Orthodox community as is he.
While Lamm comes across in article after article as a “pioneer” and of course a “philanthropist” his story is one of immense profit, little financial risk, secrecy, conspiracy and huge financial gains.
From our perspective, it is a good thing that the people of Bloomingburg and Manamaking have been paying attention or their village would have been lost long ago.
Shalom Lamm uses the Albany-based Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP lawfirm. We have gotten to know their attorney’s Terresa Bakner (a partner) and John Henry (also a partner). Bakner was a featured speaker on January 14, 2015 at the Sullivan County Partnership lecturing to our officials on the SEQRA process. Yes Marc Baez and company asked her to speak.
“He (Lamm) recently opened an office in Bloomingburg and hired a couple of heavy hitters: Scott Samuelson, the former chairman of Sullivan’s Chamber of Commerce, and Marc Baez, the former president of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development.”
Interesting how Lamm also uses the same RICO attorneys when his offices were raided as did Sheldon Silver.
Lamm had always insisted that his project was straightforward and not conspiratorial in nature. Articles from 2016 suggest otherwise.
Lamm, a Modern Orthodox Jew who is the son of Rabbi Norman Lamm, a former chancellor of Yeshiva University, insisted that his project was always 396 units and challenged opponents to produce one document saying otherwise. They have not.
Governor Cuomo’s involvement in the Bloomingburg controversy was obvious in reports regarding his position.
Gerardi, who said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo favors merging overlapping governments and services – said simply: “We’re too small to keep going like this.”
In fact, as new residents and businesses move in, Bloomingburg has yet to hire a code enforcement officer to enforce the various stop-work orders that have been issued on buildings owned by Lamm. Some of those buildings have had their windows broken in recent weeks.
This isn’t the first time the Rural Community Coalition has started a petition to dissolve this one-stoplight village on the eastern border of Orange County. Two years ago, the former Village Board that supported the development rejected the petition because it said it wasn’t properly filed with the village. Roche, who would like to see an earlier date for the referendum, said her group didn’t appeal the ruling because of the cost and an unsympathetic Mamakating government.
Gerardi said the village – which has already handed its planning and zoning duties to Mamakating – has hired an Albany consulting firm, the Laberge Group, to oversee the process and inform residents how the dissolution would work.
On October 4 2013, Failed Messiah reported,
Rabbi Norman Lamm’s Son Used Front Man To Hide Plans For New Satmar Hasidic Village
Shalom Lamm and Rabbi Norman LammIn May 2006, a developer with deep political and business ties to this eastern Sullivan County village of about 400 signed a secret agreement to be the front man for a development of “at least 400 units of town houses” on some 200 acres. That’s the same development that is now the target of virulent protests because it is slated to become a new Satmar village that will dwarf the existing 420 residents of this small New York State town.
PROJECT ALWAYS INTENDED TO BE LARGER THAN BILLED
Citing the Recordonline post, FailedMessiah explained that the approved project was always intended to be something different, a Satmar village.
“In fact, last year, two years after the project was approved, Roche’s group filed a lawsuit to block it. But a state Supreme Court judge dismissed the suit, saying they had waited too long to file it, and the village had followed the rules of the approvals process, including holding public hearings about the projects.
Still, that has not stopped Roche and others from trying to find ways to fight it. They are looking for potential conflicts of interest between the developers like Lamm and Roe and government officials. They are also trying to find flaws in the way the project has been approved.
Gets past officials
An examination of available official documents and interviews with scores of residents tell a more complex story of how and why the project was approved – a story not only of apparent deception, but also of citizen apathy and, perhaps, the lack of attention of officials.
It begins with Roe, who freely admits he told anyone who would listen that he wanted to be build 125 homes with at least one golf course, even though he had that signed agreement with Lamm for those 400 homes.
Questioned last week, Roe said at first that he didn’t really read the contract as well as he should have. He also mentioned how the project changed when the golf course was nixed because of wetlands and endangered species. Plus, even though he only mentioned those 125 homes, he now says, “There was always going to be the expansion (from 125 homes) from Day One. Why would you build a 325,000-gallon sewer plant for just that.”
But when pressed about the Confidential Retention Agreement, he said this:
“I represented to the village 125, never more than 125, but we knew all along we needed 395.”
Still, soon after Roe was telling people the project would be 125, or maybe even 180, homes with maybe “senior housing,” the project’s representatives began telling town officials the project would be much larger. In January 2008, a representative of the project told the Planning Board there would be 200 town houses and about 102 family homes.
By February 2008, years after the village and town agreed to annex some 300 acres owned by Mamakating into the village and the zoning had been changed to allow the development, Roe and a project representative said there would be 102 single-family homes, 200 town houses and 93 patio homes “for a total of 395 clustered in groups within the golf course.”
And that ultimately is how the final State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA)Findings Statement was approved in July 2009 – minus the golf course.
“A residential community with 396 townhouse units, a community center, a number of community parks and a swimming pool on approximately 198.3 acres” – all legal according to Bloomingburg zoning.”
A SHADY DEAL
How to build an American shtetl — See: Bloomingburg, N.Y., Jewish Journal 2015
“It was a shady deal. The politicians we had here threw us under the bus,” said Patti, the owner of a thrift shop in the village who, like all the locals interviewed for this story and many of the Hasidim, asked that her last name not be used. After so much conflict and bad press, people here are wary of reporters.
Patti lives across from the Chestnut Ridge development, which she said has dramatically altered the local landscape. “I used to look at farm fields every day, with silos and animals grazing,” she said. Now she looks out at Lamm’s townhouses.
Despite her misgivings, Patti says she’s reserving judgment about what’s to come.
“Things are definitely going to change. Whether it’ll be for the better or worse it’s too soon to tell,” she said. “It’s in limbo right now.”
CUOMO’S POLITICAL INTEREST – VOTES
In 2014 Bloomburg reported:
About 40 percent of New York City’s 1.1 million Jews identified as Orthodox in 2011, up from 33 percent in 2002, according to the Jewish Community Study of New York from the UJA-Federation of New York.
David Pollock, the director of governor relations and security at the Jewish Community Relations Council in New York, said an endorsement by Hasidic leaders usually indicates who will win an election.
“There’s very few ways to acquire votes wholesale,” Pollock. “Hasidic communities are one of the few groups with a proven track record of delivering blocs of votes.”
Satmar, the biggest faction of Hasidim, are split between two brothers. Cuomo received the backing of both leaders when he won election. In his first year in office, he fulfilled a promise he made to one of the grand rabbis, Aaron Teitelbaum: He pushed through a bill that gave theological undergraduate students — including those studying at yeshivas, or Jewish schools — access to millions of dollars in state grants.
Behind the scenes, developers intended Chestnut Ridge to solve growing housing crises within the Satmar community, the 2013 executive summary says. The document includes data on the rapid growth of the Village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County, and states that developers can reasonably estimate a 15-year total build-out of 5,000-7,000 homes. The homes have five bedrooms, and one proposal states that 20 percent of residents will be Section 8, or low income, though developers prefer 40 percent.
As it now stands, the development encompasses 198 acres, but developers have already acquired 500 acres of adjacent property for future construction. After building a complete Hasidic community, the developers expect “to be rewarded for the years of secret toil and investment with a very substantial return on investment,” the document said. They project the net profit at more than $330 million.
“Chestnut Ridge was planned and built lawfully and openly,” Fragin said in a statement. “The housing units have always been and remain open to everyone. There is nothing illegal or inappropriate about marketing homes to the Hasidic community, and the backlash that has erupted from certain quarters, is both unfortunate and intolerant.”
The documents describe plans for a complete Hasidic community, including shopping facilities, girls and boys schools, a shul, mikvahs, beis medrash, mosdos and a refuah center. Emails sent between developer Kenneth Nakdimen and designer Mark Weisz in 2012 discuss seeking planning approval for a community clubhouse and a maintenance building that they intend to be a shul and a mikvah.
No need for accuracy
Nakdimen wrote that it will be an ugly and political fight to get Hasidic facilities approved, so, he added, they planned to hide the buildings’ true purposes until they were already built. Weisz responded by saying they need renderings for marketing purposes only.
Attorney for the Town of Mamakating, Brian Sokoloff, said he found the documents “very interesting” when he saw them. The judge was absolutely right to make them public, Sokoloff said, and it was only unfortunate that they were released after a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by the town against Lamm, Nakdimen and others was dismissed. That case is pending an appeal.