St. Lawrence trial Thursday, day five–The narrative that follows is a combination of the Journal News report (section in quotations) and other observers in the courtroom.
“Ramapo Councilman Patrick Withers revealed on the stand today that he had audiotaped conversations with Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and others in town government, saying he did not trust the others and wanted his own statements during discussions of town finances captured accurately.
Withers, the deputy town supervisor from 2013 until the end of 2016, shared those tapes with FBI investigators in the Ramapo corruption case and discussed some of them Thursday as they were played in court. The tapes included discussions regarding the financing of a new ballpark and transfers of money to support the town’s general fund balance.”
Town Board Member Patrick Withers.
In response to two lines of questioning, Withers explained that the work at the ballpark site had begun before they started work on the bonding for the project. Also, the Supervisor signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Bottom Line Baseball before the funding process was put in place.
On August 24, 2010, 71% of the Ramapo voters rejected the proposed bond to fund the ballpark project in a permissive referendum vote forced by Preserve Ramapo. Withers told the court that St. Lawrence responded, and in public comments he said the people had spoken and that he had gotten the message. There would be no public money spent on the park. He would get private financing for the stadium.
Withers described how St. Lawrence then went to Wall Street and was unable to get backers for the project. He said the Supervisor then turned to Mona Montal (Ramapo director of purchasing), and builders Isaac and Yekiel Lebovits and there was an attempt to get funding in Israel. That failed also, as all the investors deemed it too risky.
Then, Withers explained, St. Lawrence turned to the law firm that handled bonding issues for Ramapo, Pannone, Lopes, Devereaux & West. Teno West, of that group, told him that a 5-year bond would not be subject to a permissive referendum vote and they could avoid the public with that kind of bond.
“Withers said he was lobbied hard by St. Lawrence to support a variety of matters related to the ballpark. At one point, after local voters had turned down a bond to finance the stadium, St. Lawrence enlisted several key supporters, including Kaser Village Clerk Allie Pinkosovits and influential builder Isaac Lebovits, to approach Withers to try to enlist his support for issuing a five-year $25 million municipal bond for the ballpark’s construction.
Withers said he and Councilman Yitzchok Ullman were initially going to vote against the new bond proposal or boycott the meeting, feeling that they should support the will of the people that had been expressed in the referendum vote against the stadium bonding.
He said ultimately though, in conjunction with the two key supporters, he and Ullman met with St. Lawrence and made a political deal where they agreed to support the bond. In exchange for their support, Ullman asked for more affordable pricing for the units to be sold in Ramapo Commons; Withers asked one of his then-employees at his bar and restaurant to be given a town information technology job, which she said she was qualified for, and more vacation time for two town employees.
Withers said he supported the bond but never reviewed a copy of it and its terms.”
On May 15, 2013 about 40 FBI agents staged an eight-hour long raid of Ramapo Town Hall and removed computer hardware and boxes of records.
The next day, Withers said, St. Lawrence called a meeting at a trailer at the ballpark construction site where he had an office. Attending, along with the board members was Michael Reilly, the Ramapo Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator. At that meeting, Reilly told St. Lawrence that Nathan Oberman, the town’s financial officer, had to go. St. Lawrence responded, I hear you, and I agree with you, but we need someone to blame for what happened yesterday (the FBI raid). Discussions at that meeting also included speculation on how they might blame Melissa Reimer for the financial irregularities that probably attracted the FBI’s attention.
Withers explained that he decided to start surreptitiously recording key discussions about finance on his iPhone from that point on. He said he didn’t know who he could trust.
“One audiotape played in court was of a town workshop meeting where board members discussed a $3.08 million revenue transfer from the RLDC that had appeared on the books for three years straight. St. Lawrence maintained an action by the state attorney general had delayed the sale of housing units, but he and Town Attorney Michael Klein assured the others that the the money would ultimately come through.
On another tape, St. Lawrence was heard speaking about the importance of having an robust general fund to impress the Moody’s bond rating service, because a good rating would save the town money on lower interest rates.
Prosecutors also asked Withers about the more than $3 million in revenue Ramapo was listing as having been received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Withers said he attended a meeting in May 2013 where town officials explained to St. Lawrence “the money wasn’t there,” showing him a document that detailed that the paperwork for at least $2 million of the request was incomplete.
“He circled the number, folded it up and put it in his breast pocket,” he said.
In the afternoon, Withers testified about a tape of a discussion in August 2014 regarding a $695,000 legal bill from the firm of Pannone, Lopes, Devereaux & West for the services of lawyer Teno West, who worked as bond counsel for the town. Aaron Troodler, then the executive director of the RLDC, wanted Ramapo to cover the fee.
The town ultimately gave the RLDC the money, but Withers said West told him the firm was not paid. Withers said he believed the money was used to pay down the construction loan (ed. From Provident Bank) for the stadium rather than to cover the legal bill. It was unclear if the bill has been paid since then.
Prosecutors in the morning had asked Withers, who formerly owned the Ireland 32 bar and restaurant in Suffern, if his business had ever been audited. He said the state audited him twice resulting in an agreement to pay additional taxes.”
The Prosecution finished their questions, and then the defense attorney, Michael Burke, began his line of questions, none of them addressing the suspect financial dealings that had taken up most of the morning. Rather than refute any evidence he began a full-on personal attack of Wither’s personal life. He hammered away with questions about substance abuse, delinquent business taxes and a disclosure statement that neglected to list those unpaid taxes. We’ll see if he gets back to any relevant evidence presented so far tomorrow morning, but Thursday afternoon ended with Burke still deflecting away from the facts with a stream of personal attacks.
Before ending at 2:20, the court dealt with the problem of Michael Reilly. He moved to Georgia a while ago, and though he is on the prosecution witness list, he has apparently refused to return for questioning. Judge Seibel said the matter would be addressed first thing tomorrow morning with Reilly’s attorney. If necessary, she seemed to imply, a subpoena could be one solution.
Besides his presence in some of the key meetings with St. Lawrence, the board members, and the orthodox developers, Reilly is an interesting character based on the number of payments he was receiving regularly from the two St. Lawrence campaign funds, Friends of St. Lawrence and Leadership That’s Working.
Also very interesting at this point is the disclosure that orthodox developers and Monsey political officials were showing up in key Town Board executive sessions where they took an active role in buying votes for bonding for the ballpark. Do you remember voting for either Isaac Lebovits or Allie Pinkosovits? Why are they now running the government with St. Lawrence and our elected town board?
Tomorrow, Friday, Withers will be continuing to testify under cross-examination after the court deals with the reluctant Michael Reilly.
Read the complete Journal News story here.