Journal News coverage of the 7th day of the trial
“The former executive director of the Ramapo Local Development Corporation testified Monday that the town supervisor, Christopher St. Lawrence, frequently bailed the RLDC out of tight financial spots by getting the town to send it payments that were used to pay off pending bills rather than for their approved purpose.
“Much of what was happening there, a lot of the effort went to mask reality” with the RLDC’s finances, Aaron Troodler, who is also a former assistant Ramapo town attorney, testified. “A lot of what I did was rooted in that culture.”
Troodler pleaded guilty in March in the case, admitting to securities fraud and conspiracy charges and agreeing to cooperate with the prosecution.
Key testimony: Troodler described a number of items on the books of the town and the RLDC that he said never existed, starting with a $3.6 million payment the RLDC supposedly was to make to the town for the stadium land that was listed as a revenue in the town’s general fund.
Asked if the RLDC ever owed that sum to the town, Troodler said it did not. The land for the stadium had been given to the RLDC at no charge, with a “reverter clause” saying the town would reclaim ownership of the property once the construction debt was repaid.
He also described a $500K loan the town made to RLDC for a non-stadium expense that was sometimes listed along with $3.08 million said to have been received as revenue from the Ramapo Commons development. While the RLDC did plan to pay the town that money, he said, it had not yet done so in the multi-year period in which it was being listed as a revenue on the town’s books. Troodler said the money was slow to come in because the condos had not sold in the expected time frame.
Troodler went on to describe the winter of 2010-2011 when weather issues caused delays in the ballpark construction, with the potential of penalties being assessed if it did not open on time. The RLDC was having issues paying the construction bills, he said, and the cement contractor, Nico Construction, was threatening to walk off the job.
“For me personally it was an incredibly stressful time,” he said.
To mask the issues, St. Lawrence introduced a variety of ways for the town to funnel money to the RLDC, he said.
The town approved a $1.35 million payment, ostensibly to build a maintenance facility on the stadium site and do other landscaping and site work, and then another $1.2 million payment for other needs.
Troodler used that money not for its express purpose but instead to pay some of the contractors’ bills, he said.
Another time, the RLDC was short money and St. Lawrence directed him to ask the town for reimbusement for “drainage costs and other site work” at Ramapo Commons. The town transferred the RLDC $508,279, he said.
At one point it became clear the RLDC would have trouble making a payment on the stadium construction bond. He said to cover that bill he asked Ken Lehner, the head of the Rockland Boulders baseball team, for a $175,000 advance on the team’s annual rental payment for the stadium. On another occasion, he said, he asked Provident Bank, which had issued the RLDC a line of credit for the project, for $985,000 for construction bills that was instead used to make the bond payment.
The town transferred $495,000 to the RLDC to pay bond counsel that was used to cover the bond costs instead, leaving the lawyers’ payments until later, he said. Troodler said the town also sold land to the Hillcrest Fire Company for $1.5 million so it could build a new station, and gave the money to the RLDC.
Troodler said he had lied to a news reporter when he told the reporter the eventual refinancing of the stadium bond for a longer period was because of historically low interest rates, rather than an inability to make the bond payments.
Like a previous witness, Ramapo Councilman Patrick Withers, Troodler suggested that St. Lawrence’s strategy if questioned might have been to point fingers at Nat Oberman, Ramapo’s deputy finance director and tax receiver, who is in his 80s. Oberman also had worked as a treasurer on St. Lawrence’s campaign account, and Troodler said he approached St. Lawrence with concerns about it. St. Lawrence, however, “didn’t seem too overly concerned” and said any problem could be blamed on Oberman’s advanced age, Troodler said.”
The day ended with the prosecution completing its examination of the witness followed by a short period of questioning by the defense attorney–to be continued tomorrow. Also tomorrow, Michael Reilly’s attorney must resolve the question of his client’ response to appear as a prosecution witness.
Read the complete Journal News coverage, extensive links and video here.