St. Lawrence trial day four: Steve Lieberman The Journal News
“On the stand: Thomas Myers, a private attorney who worked with the RLDC and the town on the stadium bond completed his testimony this morning. Next up was Lee, who worked for Moody’s on their ratings on Ramapo bonds from 2010-2012. The latter part of the afternoon was mostly taken up with the testimony of Ken Lehner, managing partner and president of Bottom 9 Baseball, the corporation behind the Rockland Boulders baseball team. The last witness of the day was Councilman Patrick Withers, who had only just begun testifying when court broke for the day.
Key testimony: Lehner described efforts to build the stadium, which he said was dogged from the start by a challenge by Preserve Ramapo, and later faced funding and financing problems.
Still, he said, the team went forward with a 25-year lease for the stadium, which was built from 2010 to 2011.
The first season, he said, the fee due for the lease was $554,000 but St. Lawrence asked the owners to pay the town a fee of $734,000 saying the town would reimburse them the difference later. When he asked St. Lawrence why, Lehner said, St. Lawrence “said it was a better number,” indicating it would take some public pressure off the project.
The team paid the higher amount, Lehner said, but the next year he told St. Lawrence he didn’t feel comfortable doing that again.
Lehner also said while he and St. Lawrence had many meetings but St. Lawrence never wrote anything down. At one point, in 2010, he said, he commented on it and St. Lawrence told him: “Writing things down can lead to a paper trail, and a paper trail cannot be good.”
In earlier testimony about the stadium bonding and town finances, both Myers, the lawyer, and Lee, the Moody’s analyst, were asked by prosecutors how they would feel if they discovered the numbers they had been reviewing were fabricated. Both said the would have had a lot of problems with that.
Myers said if information is wrong, “I don’t want to be a party to presenting inaccurate information to investors.”
“I would be concerned if someone lied to me,” he added.
Judge Cathy Seibel cautioned the jury, however, that how Myers and Lee felt should not be taken as what a reasonable investor would think in considering whether to buy the bonds at issue in the case.
Lee said the most important factor, or one of them, to Moody’s in doing a bond rating is the town general fund because it is the “roadmap to government” — how a municipality spends its money and what the end result is.
She said in the case of the stadium bonds it was important that the town had guaranteed the repayment on the bonds. She said it was St. Lawrence who told her of the plan for the RLDC to repay the town from its revenues.
She said when Moody’s downgraded Ramapo to an A1 bond rating with a negative outlook in May 2012 it was because of the erosion of the town’s financial flexibility and two consecutive years of an operating deficit in the general fund balance.
Lee said in Feb 2012 she had received an email from Robert Rhodes, chairman of Preserve Ramapo, an organization that has opposed St. Lawrence. She said the email warned of concerns about Ramapo’s finances and contained links to audits from the state comptroller. She said she never responded to Rhodes but did ask St. Lawrence follow-up questions based on the communication.
“It was not my job to investigate” claims about the financial stress of the town or allegations of misconduct, she said.
Lee said she had spoken to St. Lawrence multiple times about her concerns with the general fund balance and he was “upset and a little defensive” in those conversations. She said he pushed back on her contentions of what made for a comfortable fund balance.
Up next: Withers will continue on the stand Thursday morning. Court proceedings are expected to run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, with a half-hour break at midday, the judge previously announced.”
For the complete story go to The Journal News here.