St. Lawrence trial day 13, May 9, 2017
After two weeks of listening mostly to the complicit and the compliant, the court now turned its attention to the courageous—the whistleblower who risked her job and possibly her career to report what she was seeing in the Ramapo’s financials crossing her desk. Melissa Reimer, the Town’s Supervisor of Fiscal Services and budget director, refused to listen to one-time finance director Nathan Oberman when he told her, “You do not have to do the right thing here, you only have to play ball and make the supervisor happy.” To do so would have made her an accomplice to the fraud she discovered in both the Town’s and the RLDC’s books.
Not only will the jury now get to listen to an insider’s narrative of what happened that resulted in the 22 felony charges brought against St. Lawrence, it’s expected that in the course of Ms. Reimer’s testimony the jury will be able to hear the voice of the accused supervisor in the form of iPhone recordings she turned over to the FBI. This could be the only “appearance” of St. Lawrence since the likelihood of his defense attorney putting him on the stand is remote.
Reimer was the last witness called on Tuesday at about 2:15, and the initial questioning by the prosecution was introductory and established an overview.
A 20-year Ramapo resident, Reimer started working at Town Hall in December 2002. She has an accounting degree from San Diego State, and has CPA certification. She worked in the finance department as Supervisor of Fiscal Services.
She first contacted the FBI in March 2012. “I needed to protect myself,” she explained. I saw what was happening and I didn’t want anyone to point their finger at me. I have two children.” She is currently on paid suspended leave from her position and is doing work for the accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
She was asked why she began recording conversations on her phone. She did so, she explained, after everyone she spoke to about the corruption simply blew her off. She spoke to St. Lawrence about the problems, to attorney Michael Klein, Nathan Oberman, and others. One of the town attorneys actually laughed at her and advised, if you don’t like it here maybe you should leave.
In one of the disciplinary hearings the town launched against her they demanded that she turn over her iPhone to them. Asked now why she didn’t, she explained that at that point she had already given it to federal authorities.
There were two disciplinary hearings brought by the town in its attempt to get rid of her, the second of which recommended she be dismissed immediately. The first did not.
Asked about her defamation lawsuit against St. Lawrence and others, she said that was ongoing. (You can read the details about the lawsuit and the two disciplinary hearings in a previous post titled “Whistleblower’s Lawsuit Details Systematic Corruption at Ramapo Town Hall”).
Several questions were then asked that seemed to be setting up testimony that will follow tomorrow concerning AUDs (annual updates) and numbers for FEMA payments.
A number of witnesses preceded Melissa Reimer, including Loretta Furlong of the Ramapo Finance Dept., John Postma professional investor, John Coppinger of Holt Construction, and Robert Neuendorf, a detective with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office.
Loretta Furlong reported to Melissa Reimer in the finance department, and her testimony itemized a number of fraudulent entries and attempts to mask receivables, debt, and shortages in the General Fund. She also answered questions about the dubious land swaps between the Town and the RLDC.
John Postma, a municipal bond investor of Watermill Asset Management, explained how he evaluates bond offerings and why he bought $10million of the $25million baseball stadium bonds. Asked if he would have purchased those bonds at that rate if he knew the numbers in the General Fund were not accurate, he said he probably would not. He said he was assured that the bonds were backed by a fairly wealthy tax base. As he explained, “All stadiums do not walk on their own two feet. All need government assistance.” He said he made $400,000 a year on these bonds.
John Coppinger detailed the difficulties of trying to build the stadium over what was a very cold winter. There was a deadline of June 10, and Coppinger was told that no matter what it took and what the cost overruns would be that deadline had to be met. St. Lawrence was at the site every day, and when work had to be halted for three to four weeks in December he was very disturbed. The cost overruns kept mounting. At one point they were working 24-hour days. They poured cement for the lower seating on a day that registered 18°. Told that the increase of antifreeze in the mix instead of water would not set as hard, St. Lawrence said he didn’t care.
Contractors Nico and Piermont Iron still had not been paid for their work as the crews headed into February and they were asking St. Lawrence daily when they were going to get paid. Coppinger had to get St. Lawrence’s approval for all the cost overruns, and at one point he asked the supervisor, what happens if the town board doesn’t approve these extra charges? St. Lawrence told him not to worry, the RLDC will pay it then.
Robert Neundorf, a retired FBI agent who is now a detective with the Rockland County DA, was part of the evidence recovery crew that raided Ramapo Town Hall. He was assigned St. Lawrence’s office, and he detailed how everything was catalogued by the locations they were found on and in—desktops, shelves, drawers, etc. He also offered details that were interesting. He found a balance sheet, and written on the back in St. Lawrence’s handwriting was the note: Do not transfer land to hamlets. He took out a total of one-and-one-half boxes from the supervisor’s office.
At the end of the day, there was some discussion regarding the court calendar. The Prosecuting Attorneys estimated that their evidence will take them to the 18th of May, Defense Attorney Burke will add another four or five days, and then there’s the summaries and the instructions to the jury. It’s estimated the trial will now extend to the Memorial Day Weekend.