Sheldon Silver’s corruption conviction overturned, documents show
A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corruption conviction, according to court documents.
In March federal prosecutors in the Silver case faced sharp questioning the appeals panel, which was worried about whether the conviction could survive a new U.S. Supreme Court decision narrowing the scope of “official acts” that can be the subject of a bribe.
“You went to trial on the theory that anything Sheldon Silver did in connection with his role as speaker was an official act,” said Judge William Sessions. “That’s something totally different from what’s now the government action required. How do you know the jury would have made the same decision?”
The arguments provided a first glimpse of how the 2nd U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Manhattan would interpret the high court’s 2016 ruling in a case involving former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, which held prosecutors must show an actual exercise of government power, not just a meeting or phone call.
It drew an overflow crowd, including prosecution and defense lawyers prepping to argue the same issues on the conviction of former Senate leader Dean Skelos, as well as U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, who presided at Skelos’ trial, and new Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
Silver was convicted in 2015 of sponsoring grants and doing other favors for an asbestos doctor who referred patients to the Speaker’s law firm, and also collecting legal referral fees from real estate developers whose legislation he supported. The Democrat was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but has remained free while appealing.
Steve Molo, Silver’s lawyer, said the former Speaker deserved a new trial because the evidence included both actual exercises of government power and lesser favors — like meeting with real estate donors and job references for the doctor’s children.
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni’s instructions gave jurors the latitude to convict on either, he argued. “It was inconsistent with what the law is now,” Molo said.
But prosecutor Andrew Goldstein contended that the case involved actual legislative acts, not just the constituent courtesies the Supreme Court said were insufficient in McDonnell’s case.
“This case involved far more than meetings and introductions and nothing more,” he said. “ engaged in official decision-making to benefit the people who were paying him.”
When the judges cited lesser favors which prosecutors had also argued were official acts, Goldstein said they were all part of a larger “scheme,” and were elevated by Silver’s power and clout.
But Judge Richard Wesley objected to that claim. “Then any powerful person who wants you to do something is committing a crime?” he said. “Is every invitation to a fundraiser a crime?”
Please see the article in its original format on Newsday by clicking here.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver overturned
A School District Whose Children Have Been Raped of an Education and $3M in State Aid
It does not matter in East Ramapo whether you are Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, secular, Hispanic, Black, White, or Green because all of East Ramapo’s children have been deprived of an education.
In the public schools in East Ramapo despite the best efforts of teachers, parents and activists the resources have been scarce and the schools in disrepair, leaving the public school children to study without proper textbooks, in classrooms known to leak during rainstorms. The schools of that district barely offer core classes. There are few art classes, if any and music is a luxury.
The public schools in East Ramapo, once the best in the State, lack the resources necessary to provide an education consistent with New York State mandates. Funding is grossly inadequate and the Board of Education, comprised in disproportionate part of ultra-Orthodox men blames the State.
There is no acknowledgement on the part of the Trustees of the East Ramapo Board of Education and their spokespeople that money has been siphoned off for years for the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox religious education. The premise has been that there are more private school, Yeshiva educated children and more resources should be provided for their edcuation. Separation of Church and State be damned.
In contrast the private Yeshivas, funded with public taxpayer money, have the resources but the children are deprived an education by an establishment which actively chains them to functional illiteracy, mathematical ignorance and a non-science based religious education… in Yiddish. Separation of Church and State, an unknown concept.
Presently there is a public meeting at Rockland Community College, located in East Ramapo intended to explain how $3M in New York State aid will be allocated. Perhaps Church and State can walk on separate sides of the road….
Lohud reported on September 27, 2016
Full-day kindergarten and other programs will start Oct. 6
The state education commissioner has approved the East Ramapo school district’s plan for using $3 million in state aid to create universal full-day kindergarten and restore arts programs in grades K-6, among other initiatives.
Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Monday that she had given her blessing to the plan, and also said she would join state-appointed monitors Charles Szuberla and John Sipple at a public meeting to discuss the initiatives at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Rockland Community College’s Cultural Arts Center, 145 College Road, Ramapo.
Full-day kindergarten and other programs will start Oct. 6, according to a district spokesperson.
The district conducted its own public hearing to receive community input on the expenditure plan on Sept. 7. The school board approved the plan on Sept. 13 and it was submitted to Elia on Sept. 20.
“These plans represent the district’s path forward to ensure progress continues and to ensure the educational rights of every East Ramapo student are met,” Commissioner Elia said in a statement. “Chuck Szuberla, John Sipple and Superintendent Wortham have worked as quickly as possible to put a long-term strategic academic and fiscal improvement plan in place that is both thorough and thoughtful. It continues the work already done to repair the trust of the East Ramapo community, while recognizing there is still work to do.”
The $3 million in supplemental funding was approved under a state oversight law that required the development of the strategic academic plan, as well as a comprehensive expenditure plan, in consultation with Szuberla.
In 2012, East Ramapo went from full-day to half-day kindergarten amid $14 million worth of budget cuts. Last year, two sections were added. Four new full-day kindergarten classes were included in the district’s $224 million budget approved by voters in May.
Here’s what’s being proposed for the $3 million:
$1.2 million to hire six monolingual kindergarten teachers and four bilingual kindergarten teachers.
Up to 11 sections of full-day kindergarten would be created, depending upon the number of children who enroll.
The bulk of kindergarten funding, $670,000, would go towards salaries, while the remainder would cover classroom materials, instructional technology and building adjustments to accommodate new classes.
Restoring art, music, dance and theater classes for students in grades K-6 will cost around $1.7 million.
The district aims to hire 12 teachers for arts instruction, the majority of whom were previously laid off and are on the preferred eligibility list (PELL).
Ramapo Councilman Samuel “Shmuel” Tress is expected as soon as tonight to resign from office and plead guilty to official misconduct, according to sources familiar with the case.
The plea deal, which would drop a felony charge, would likely enable Tress to avoid jail time in the case.
Tress, 71, a Democrat who won election in November despite a federal mail fraud conviction, is accused of voting for a zone change on a housing development he held a financial stake in — even though he had signed an affidavit statinghe wouldn’t profit from his decisions as a Zoning Board of Appeals member.
Under the plea agreement, Tress must send a letter to Ramapo resigning from the councilman position he’s held since January. He also is expected to face a fine.
The Airmont Justice Court session is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Rockland District Attorney’s Office detectives arrested Tress in March on a felony count of first-degree offering a false instrument and the misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.
Ramapo Town Attorney Michael Klein declined comment on Thursday, as did Executive Assistant District Attorney Richard Kennison Moran. Tress’ attorney Michael Gilbert of Manhattan did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
The resignation would end Tress’ short career as an elected official. Tress won election to a four-year term in November running with Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and Democratic Councilwoman Brendel Logan-Charles. He succeeded Democrat Daniel Friedman, who lost a September 2015 primary after he lost community support following a falling out for his criticism of St. Lawrence.
The all-Democrat Town Board would be tasked with appointing someone to fill the open seat.
Tress was a longtime member of the Zoning Board of Appeals before running for town council. He admitted to The Journal News in October 2015 that he owns a home in Lakewood, New Jersey, but claimed he spent most of the week in an Kearsing Parkway apartment in Monsey. He is the CEO of East Morgan Holdings, a Lakewood, New Jersey-based remediation company.
Court records show Tress pleaded guilty in December 2004 to a felony charge in a federal fraud case. He admitted he falsely assumed an identity to obtain a home mortgage loan from a bank in connection with the purchase of a home in Spring Valley. He was sentenced in March 2005 to three years of supervised release.
Tress’s recent arrest came after the District Attorney’s Office detectives scrutinized his ZBA vote on May 4, 2015, to approve eight zoning variances for what was then a single-family house at 142 Blauvelt Road in Monsey. The grassroots political party Preserve Ramapo provided the prosecutor’s office with more than 100 pages of documents on Tress.
Tress on May 14, 2015, had filed 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.
Tress denied to a Journal News reporter that he profited from the ZBA approval.
Documents obtained by The Journal News before the arrest, however, showed 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 on file with the Rockland County Clerk’s Office.
Tress’s potential conviction adds to the list of politicians facing or sentenced for corruption charges in Rockland County, where District Attorney Thomas Zugibe’s office is part of an anti-corruption task force working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.
It is also the tragic loss of Matterhorn Nurseries which is now partially developed into housing, most ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox communities.
Christopher St. Lawrence, according to Rockland County residents is, has been and will always be in the pockets of the ultra-Orthodox community. He cares little about the public schools, the over-development and the ramifications for an entire community because he has been well compensated. The fact that the ultra-Orthodox intent upon over-development, siphoning funds from public education to private yeshivas and utilizing taxpayer money to fund their very existence, is of little relevance when they vote in droves to support him as Town Supervisor. From our view, Lawrence, Troodler, and others belong behind bars.
From the opinion of some living in Rockland County, it is difficult to believe that the owners of the Boulders knew nothing about the unsavory way in which the stadium was funded, the misappropriation of funds out of the pockets of taxpayers and the destruction of the Horn family’s iconic nursery. It is hard to tell whether they, like St. Lawrence were in the pockets of the ultra-Orthodox community and whether the building of the stadium was their share of the pie.
The opinion piece posted below, comments to the contention that mega-development in Rockland County is not Orthodox-only. He compares a Route 59 development plan to the “Provident Park debacle.” If the owners of the Boulders knew of the misappropriation of funds and participated in some form or another, then the comparison is correct but the conclusion is wrong. It would not be “Orthodox-only.”
I can’t believe such a project would be considered for the proposed site. Then I remembered, it’s Ramapo and history shows that anything the community’s wealthy developers want, they get, regardless of costs and consequences to town residents.
The article includes photos of nice drawings of a large, New York City-style urban development with trees and landscaping, and even a few cars. Not surprisingly, they don’t show Route 59.
The drawings and the details of the plan are pure fantasy and a public deception. Six days a week, that location is already a dangerous traffic choke-point on Route 59.
The plan boasts more than 600 parking spaces and, like all such plans proposed in Ramapo, it will undoubtedly fall far short of the actual need in favor of money-making apartment space.
Regardless, the spots represent at least that many additional vehicles in the area. Shoppers visiting the ground-level stores will bring even more vehicles.
The hundreds of housing units represent thousands of children (if not now, in the near future). That requires more than 100 school buses each transporting children back and forth several times each day.
Additionally, there will be the taxis, delivery vehicles, sanitation vehicles, service vehicles, medical transport vehicles, etc. trying to move through the impossibly congested area. It will be interesting to see a fire truck or ambulance navigate the area in response to a call for help.
How can this possibly work? To begin to even try to make such a plan work will require incredibly expensive and massive capital improvements to the area’s infrastructure, including water, sewers, utilities and roads.
What about the environmental costs? What about public and park spaces for the many, many people who would reside there?
What portion of the astronomical financial cost will the wealthy developers be required to pay?
I think that the taxpayers of Ramapo and Rockland are looking at another Provident Stadium debacle. I’m still paying for a stadium I didn’t want, and I don’t want to pay for a nonsensical project that will further enrich the community’s already wealthy and politically powerful developers.
As for the title of the article, “Builder: It’s not orthodox-only,” I don’t believe it for a minute.
RAMAPO – A year ago, a grassroots group called CUPON was formed by a Hillcrest resident who saw an urgent need to keep the area’s development in check.
Since then, that group has helped a handful of similar organizations spring up around Ramapo, a town with a long history of civic activism. They all share concerns similar to CUPON’s, which stands for Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods.
“What we wanted to do is, instead of having a big CUPON for Ramapo, we wanted an individual area to have its own CUPON-like organization,” said Micheal Miller, who started the group in Hillcrest and has subsequently helped organize other neighborhoods. “Then, if you go to a (municipal board) meeting, you’re going to be representatives of your area,” he said. “That carries much more weight than if we go as one organization.”
Ramapo is Rockland County’s fastest-growing town, home to an estimated 126,595 people with 12 villages. In recent months, new groups focused on controlling development have formed in such areas as Monsey, New Hempstead, Airmont and Chestnut Ridge.
“The goal is to empower the other members of the community,” said Hilda Kogut, who launched CUPON Chestnut Ridge this spring, noting that many of her fellow villagers have begun speaking up at village meetings about their concerns. “We’re making some progress.”
What activists are up against is substantial: More than 3,000 homes are proposed or could be proposed for large pieces of land that changed hands in recent years, according to Miller, who compiled the information based on property sale records and other sources. In addition to the 197-acre property in the Route 202-306 corridor just outside of Pomona where the controversial 479-unit Patrick Farm development was proposed, the list of parcels include the 130-acre Minisceongo Golf Club property on Pomona Road and the 145-acre former Edwin Gould Academy site in Chestnut Ridge.
Based on ongoing trends, those properties could potentially be developed into higher-density housing catering to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jewish families from outside the county, Miller said.
“They are bringing in Brooklyn to Ramapo,” Miller said. “It’s going to become an extension of New York City.”
Orthodox Jews share concern
Tension between religious and non-religious communities has been on the rise in Rockland for the past several years, fueled by strained relations between members of the East Ramapo school community and its school board, which is controlled by Orthodox Jewish residents who send their children to private schools.
But over-development is a shared concern in her Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, said Shani Bechhofer of Monsey, who has lived in a community called Viola Estates for more than a decade. A major housing development, also called Viola Estates, is under construction on a nearby 5.5-acre property on Viola Road, even though Bechhofer and her neighbors expressed their opposition before the Ramapo Planning Board, she said.
They formed a grassroots organization, Viola Estates Residents Allied for Integrity, which is also being assisted by Miller.
“The more we were educated, the more we began to understand the issues that are affecting us, not just this development,” Bechhofer said. “That’s why we named our organization ‘Allied for Integrity.'”
Bechhofer said she was “disheartened” by the town’s response when she and her neighbors reported to officials that more units than planned were being built there. The property, formerly owned by Temple Beth El, was originally zoned for single-family homes allowing 1.74 units per acre, or a total 10 units for the site. In July 2013, the developer was granted a zone change to allow for eight units per acre, or 44 units on 5.5 acres.
As construction moved along, neighbors saw that the basements in each unit had been turned into what they saw as accessory apartments, according to a letter they sent to the town. Ramapo officials acknowledged the work done was not according to the plans but, instead of requiring the developer to follow the existing plans, officials approved revised plans that included a “finished lower level.”
In June, three neighbors sued Ramapo town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, Building Inspector Anthony Mallia and Viola Gardens LLC., the owner of the property, over the issue. Town Attorney Michael Klein has told The Journal News the lawsuit lacks merit. Attorney Steven Mogel, who was recently retained by the neighbors, said Friday that the lawsuit, filed in Putnam County Court to avoid any potential conflict in Rockland County Court, was expected to be discontinued because of procedural issues, but “it doesn’t mean that the efforts that the neighbors have engaged in are over.”
Miller, for his part, has been leading the effort to stop a 20-unit housing development, Bluefield Extension, on the 1-acre site on the east side of Union Road in Hillcrest, along the Monsey border. The property was originally zoned for single-family homes.
“This would set a precedent,” Miller said. “If they are allowed to build that, they can come into Hillcrest and do the same thing where they want to.”
From 2000 to 2010, Ramapo’s total population grew by 16.2 percent, while the statewide population grew 2.1 percent and the county’s grew 8.7 percent. The biggest increases within Ramapo were seen in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish villages of New Square and Kaser, which grew by 50.2 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively. Montebello village saw a 22.7 percent increase, and unincorporated Ramapo, including Monsey and Hillcrest, grew by 20.9 percent.
In addition to over-development, community activists keep an eye on issues such as illegal conversions of homes, zoning and code violations, and so-called “blockbusting,” the practice of persuading homeowners to sell their property cheaply by suggesting that changes in neighborhood demographics will destroy their property values.
“Some of the villages and areas are going through all of those issues, while others are going through only some of them,” Miller said. “But, eventually, every one of them is going to affect every area.”
Leaders of the newly formed community groups say they want town officials to stop “spot zoning” — which they think has become too common — to accommodate high-density housing development. They also want officials to enforce zoning codes more stringently.
Kogut, a retired FBI special agent who moved to Rockland decades ago as a child, said she doesn’t want her community to be overcrowded.
“If we were constructing homes for people in this county who had no place to live, I would not have been so offended,” she said.
Klein, the town attorney, said the town is trying meet the needs of different groups, the largest town in New York state outside of several on Long Island.
“We have many groups in the town who criticize us for not providing enough housing and enough development. We have other groups in the community that criticize us for providing too much development. So it’s a difficult balance that the Town Board needs to strike between what is appropriate, manageable development, and what might not be,” he said. “While I understand people have different views, particularly where it affects their immediate community, many people have different opinions on what’s appropriate development and what’s not.”
THE DESTRUCTION OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS BY THE ULTRA-ORTHODOX DRAINING FUNDING AND RESOURCES AND NOT PROVIDING A “SUBSTANTIALLY SIMILAR” EDUCATION WITH PUBLIC FUNDS – METHODOLOGY
We are seeing it happen often. The ultra-Orthodox take over a school board, drain resources, sell property. It is our own faults for not getting out to vote. The ultra-Orthodox hostile takeover of public education in the United States is a well-earned victory; they get out and vote in droves. Once they have a school district in their control, where the money used to pay for resources and education goes, well… that is not so well-earned.
In the case of East Ramapo Central School District, the people got out and voted and they spoke, loudly. A former principal was elected to the position on the school board. The ultra-Orthodox majority responded by sabotaging her victory. The requirement was that she be sworn in within 30 days of her appointment. So, what did the ultra-Orthodox members of the school board do? They kept postponing the swearing in ceremony. Until, lo-and-behold, the 30 days had come and gone. And then what? They appointed someone ultra-Orthodox to the post, someone no one knows, someone whose own kids attend private schools, someone clearly intent upon destroying the public education there. And, worst still he is someone who does not even live at the address listed – Fawn Hill Drive. Rather, the house is rented.
Yesterday an article came out in the Forward, reprinted here, about a recent Satmar decree that women are forbidden from attending universities and colleges. In other words, women are forbidden from getting educated. Moreover, any woman who chooses to get educated will be precluded from teaching at Satmar schools. One commenter to that post rightfully pointed out the impossibility of providing a “substantially similar” education if those teaching the classes are uneducated. That is a requirement in much of the United States in exchange for funding to private school using public taxpayer funds. Taxpayers, most of whom are not ultra-Orthodox, not even Jewish, are paying the taxes siphoned by school boards like the ultra-Orthodox minted East Ramapo Central School District school board, to be used to fund private yeshivas.
There is a lot wrong with this picture…. Unless, of course, you are ultra-Orthodox. Can we even wonder why there is so much hostility toward the utlra-Orthodox community in New York?
East Ramapo trustee accused of using phony address
Calls for the resignation of a newly-appointed member of the East Ramapo School Board are mounting amid accusations that the trustee does not live at his reported address.
Since Joe Chajmovicz’s appointment to a vacant seat in July, the school board has been criticized for naming someone not widely known to the public school community, and district parents have demanded he step down to allow for someone with ties to local education be named.
One of those parents, Romel Alvarez, said this past weekend, a group of about 15 people went to an address in Airmont, on Fawn Hill Drive, that Chajmovicz claims is his home, but discovered a family was renting it out.
“We went there to protest for him to resign his seat,” said Alvarez, who has been vocal at recent school board meetings on the matter. “We’re going to keep visiting there, each week, until he resigns. We’re not going away.”
A district spokesman insisted Chajmovicz has lived at the address in Airmont for the last seven years. Requests to the spokesman to be put in touch with Chajmovicz or to receive a statement for further comment were refused.
It’s unclear if Chajmovicz ever actually lived at the home on Fawn Hill Drive, though public records list it as his address starting in 2010, and a phone number was once listed under a Lisa Lefkovich at the address. Lisa Lefkovich is listed in other public records as Lisa Chajmovicz.
The home on Fawn Hill Drive is owned by a man named Moshe Solinsky as of March 2015, according to records.
A call to the number listed for the home was not returned. When a reporter visited the house Wednesday afternoon, no one answered the door. The landscaping was not well maintained, a trash can sat on the stoop, partially blocking the front door, and the aluminum siding was dirty.
Chajmovicz, 41, has two daughters, both of whom attend private schools, and works in the real estate business. He has also been involved in the development of affordable housing, according to another district spokesman, Darren Dopp.
After he was picked for the seat, the district touted Chajmovicz’s skills with finances and communications. However, the new trustee declined a request for an interview at the time.
Local education advocates, as well as the Spring Valley NAACP, are continuing to question why Jean Fields, a retired Ramapo High School principal and co-chair of the chapter’s education committee, was not selected to serve the balance of Engel’s term. They have asked Chajmovicz to forfeit his seat to allow for someone else, such as Fields, to be appointed.