Last night, at the regular Ramapo Town Board meeting, acting Supervisor Yitzchok Ullman and the Town Board removed the last vestiges of Christopher St. Lawrence’s influence in the shadow government that he had operated for years out of the Ramapo Local Development Corporation (RLDC). Recently convicted, St. Lawrence founded and Chaired the RLDC, and also served as the entity’s President. The Executive Director of the RLDC, Aron Troodler, was also convicted on federal charges related to his activities at the RLDC, so all that remained were the loosely hanging remnants of the org chart, including a temporary Executive Director, the bookkeeper, and two chair members. They were all removed, at a savings of $250,000 to the taxpayers, and, more importantly, the action represented the final neutering of a corrupt hidden branch of Ramapo governance that built the ballpark and the Elm Street project.
Actually, there were two meetings last night. The first was the regular board meeting, it was brief, and it was followed immediately by an RLDC reorganization meeting. A board resolution established new officers for an RLDC 2.0. Yitzchok Ullman will serve as Acting President, John Lynch as Treasurer, and Christian Sampson as Secretary. The regular Town Board members (Pat Withers, Brendel Logan-Charles, Michael Rossman, and Frederick Brinn) will all have equal voting power in future decisions. All officers will serve without compensation.
Regarding the terminations of the employees that were serving the St. Lawrence RLDC, the following resolutions were passed:
The Bookkeeper/Comptroller Bracha Gobioff was removed, effective Friday, July 21, 2017. (Note: Gobioff is a member of the Ramapo Planning Board and will continue to remain on that board.)
The Executive Director Kerry Potter was removed, effective Friday, July 21, 2017.
The two RLDC Board members, John Brunson and Moses Gross, also have been terminated.
Change of Special Counsel
St. Lawrence was convicted of 20 of the 22 counts brought against him by the Justice Department, and he will be sentenced on Sept. 28 for those crimes. Still remaining though are the 22 counts brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in a civil action against the RLDC. St. Lawrence and the RLDC hired John Phelan to serve as special counsel to defend them against those charges.
In the reorg portion of last night’s meeting, Phelan’s services were terminated, as of July 13, 2017, and his firm was told to prepare for the transfer of the casework and files to the New York law firm Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel.
The attorney who will take the lead now is Michael J. Dell from Kramer Levin. There’s an unusual irony regarding the lawyer chosen to help clean up the mess, current and ongoing, at St. Lawrence’s RLDC. Those readers who recall the scandal involving St. Lawrence’s bogus degrees from Harvard (claimed he had a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from the Ivy League school—he had neither), it turns out Michael Dell graduated magna cum laude with a JD (juris doctorate) from Harvard Law School, and in his last two years of study was the Associate Editorial Director of The Harvard Law Review.
Two important legal clarifications were explained by Supervisor Ullman at the close of the meeting. We asked about the two mandates insisted upon by the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. In a scathing audit of the Town and RLDC, DiNapoli claimed that Ramapo officials were likely violating the law because the Board and the RLDC were not acting “at arm’s length” and that they were improperly “mixing Town and RLDC funds.” Ullman explained that the new attorney clarified the situation. The actual laws regarding LDCs allow the direct control of an LDC by the town board, and that the “mixing of funds” was not a legal problem but more of a political conflict by the Comptroller in his attempt to get some reform legislation to curb the powers of LDCs in New York. When we asked if he could provide us the parts of the law that address these issues, Ullman said that he would, and, even more helpful, he would try to arrange an appearance by Dell at a future meeting where he would address questions from the public regarding the RLDC 2.0 in Ramapo.
We also asked about dissolving the remains of St. Lawrence’s RLDC as soon as possible, and the Acting Supervisor said there were economic problems with doing that. There are outstanding contracts that need to be addressed, and possibly reconfigured, but there are the onerous outstanding bonds—long-term debts St. Lawrence created to build his ballpark. The new law firm has explained that there is a possibility that the bondholders will demand an accelerated repayment if the Town takes over direct responsibility for those bonds from the RLDC. Ullman didn’t say so, but we assume speeding up the payment on the $25 million bond can’t be done at this time. As we wait for the two most recent audits (due now at the end of August), we can only guess at how deeply Ramapo is under water at this point.
Documenting the fiscal damage that St. Lawrence created in his decade-and-a-half hasn’t even begun. New audits of the Ramapo and the RLDC books have been ordered, and the pain that the fixes will require will soon become apparent.