Last night, on the front page of LoHud’s web version of The Journal News, a strange Community View titled “In Defense of Christopher St. Lawrence” was posted by Matthew I. Brennan. The logic was twisted, key facts were not checked by either Brennan or the editors, and the astounding conclusion was that the U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was very disrespectful even if he was on sound legal ground.
Here’s the opening paragraph: “In all fairness, I consider the 30-page indictment against Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and former Ramapo Local Development Corporation executive director and assistant town attorney N. Aaron Troodler a vindication of the supervisor’s administration.”
A vindication? Is Brennan suggesting that a good way to let everyone know what a great job you’re doing is to get yourself hauled out of your house, pre-dawn, in handcuffs, dragged off to a Federal Court, and there have about two dozen of your crimes read to you, your fans, and the press?
The common dictionary meaning of the word vindication is “clearing of blame or suspicion.” So, according to Mr. Brennan, that long list of charges with the legal reasons for the charges is actually a great recommendation for the honest quality of governance of St. Lawrence’s administration.
In his defense of St. Lawrence, Brennan fails to thank the Securities and Exchange Commission, which also filed its own brief containing another set of 22 civil charges against St. Lawrence and Troodler. In fact, he doesn’t mention those issues anywhere in his defense. Guess it just slipped his mind.
The second paragraph is as puzzling as the first. “St. Lawrence’s critics hint at wholesale corruption and claim St. Lawrence only remains in power because of the ‘bloc vote.’ But a close examination of the U.S. Attorney’s indictment raises questions: after 200,000 documents, several years of investigations, this is all they can come up with?”
Is Brennan’s really scoffing at 22 criminal counts as a pretty weak result after all that investigation?
Well, let’s take a closer look at the Feds’ work product. St. Lawrence and Troodler each face eight counts of securities fraud (each carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison x 8 = 160 years); 13 counts of wire fraud (each carries a maximum sentence of 20 years x 13 = 260 years); and one count of conspiracy with a maximum sentence of 5 years. So what Brennan is scoffing at is a possible 160 + 260 + 5 = 425 years in prison.
If you think Bharara might not zealously follow up this years-long effort in court, remember that he has called this action against St. Lawrence a “landmark case” for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, one whose history will be imprinted with Bharara’s name. It doesn’t sound like Mr. Brennan has considered that. In his press release, Bharara wrote: “This case is believed to be the first ever municipal bond-related criminal securities fraud charges against a public official.”
And how good is Preet Bharara in court? In the last eight Hudson Valley “Corridor of Corruption” cases he is perfect—won 8 for 8, including taking down two of the most powerful pols in the State, Silver and Skelos, and most recently, the mayor of Spring Valley.
I don’t know if Chris or Aaron are confidently echoing Brennan’s, “Is that all ya got?”
Brennan’s review of the factual elements of the case are often factually incorrect or amnesiac with key elements left out. Here are just a few examples.
Brennan forgets to mention that the State Comptroller DiNapoli said the mixing of taxpayers’ funds and the Local Development Corporation funds were inappropriate and probably illegal. With LDCs the State demands that funds be kept separate. Despite that, the Ramapo taxpayers have funded the building of the LDC’s ballpark and supported its operations as it has lost money year after year.
Brennan discusses a bogus $3 million asset kept on the Town’s books from year to year as the major bone of contention. He dismisses the whole thing with, “So the question becomes: how much does a $3 million false asset really affect an investor’s decision on purchasing bonds tied to a municipality with a $97 million annual budget?” Translated: Really, how big a deal is a $3 million fraud. The SEC and Bharara have a very different view and a very different total.
The U.S. Attorney alleges in the charges that St. Lawrence and Troodler “kicked truth to the curb, selling over $150 million of municipal bonds on fabricated financials. In doing so, they defrauded both the citizens of Ramapo and thousands of municipal bond investors around the country.”
Then there’s the reality that voters rejected a $25 million bond to build the ballpark for the RLDC. That was done in the first citizen-inspired referendum in Ramapo within recent memory. Brennan claims that the stadium was well under construction and in the process of being financed when Preserve Ramapo filed for the referendum. Those statements are not true. If Mr. Brennan would like to provide the list of those private investors stupid enough to have read the business plan and still willing at that time to invest their private money, we will gladly post the names of those investors on our website.
Ten thousand voters turned up in the special election, and they won a crushing victory against bonding the stadium with taxpayer’s money. Final vote: 70% against having taxpayers fund it to 30% willing to have residents pay for it.
Brennan’s take on the vote: “But the main question is if that vote was actually legally binding in order to cancel the sale of bonds after the fact; an issue never ruled upon by a judge.” I guess it sort of escaped his attention that the vote was certified by the local Board of Elections so no judges were needed to verify the will of the people, expressed in the vote.
And as he scoffed at the 22 criminal and 22 civil charges, and as he asked why would a $3 million dollar fraud bother anyone, he says of the certified vote of 10,000 residents: “The federal indictment seems to give this referendum—in which one sixth of the electorate participated—a lot of credibility.” With a 70-30 result and BOE certification, what credibility is he questioning here?
Speaking of credibility, he mentions that St. Lawrence promised, right after the release of the voting totals, “Not one dollar of taxpayer’s money will be spent on the stadium.” St. Lawrence repeated that lie again and again despite documentary evidence of all kinds to the contrary, but Brennan only mentions it once and he doesn’t acknowledge that pledge was a lie.
Brennan’s conclusion is nothing short of outrageous especially when you recall that he recently ran on the Republican line to become the Rockland County Sheriff. Here’s the last lines of his defense, his law-and-order final word on the crimes St. Lawrence is accused of:
“If any government entity was subjected to 200,000-document scrutiny, I would bet that a resulting indictment would be far greater than 22 counts.”
Anyone want to guess what the hell that’s supposed to mean? Is he actually defending St. Lawrence with a look at what everybody else is doing and you’ll understand these 22 federal crimes carrying more than 400 years in penalties aren’t really a big deal at all? Can you imagine that legal philosophy in the Sheriff’s Office?
Finally, he says, “What the U.S. Attorney did to Christopher St. Lawrence in Ramapo might be legal but certainly not righteous.”
There you have it: Matthew I. Brennan insisting that Preet Bharara, the DOJ and the SEC should all be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for picking on such a minor felon as our Supervisor.
Remember the name, William I. Brennan. Mr. Brennan is also a failed candidate for U.S. Congress, the State Assembly (twice) and the Sheriff of Rockland County. He is liable to run again, and you should remember where his political beliefs lean.
Here’s a few footnotes on the Corruption of Christopher St. Lawrence’s Tenure from Preserve Ramapo’s Chairman for Mr. Brennan’s review:
“Mr. St. Lawrence, it seems, has never been able to take any responsibility for anything he does. Recall what happened when Preserve Ramapo disclosed to the JN that he never graduated from Harvard. The fact is he went to Harvard, left, returned, and left again. After seven years he still was unable to obtain an undergraduate degree. This did not prevent him from claiming he had two degrees including an M.A. in political science also from Harvard.
The JN confirmed with an assistant registrar at Harvard that yes, he had not graduated. In response St. Lawrence claimed that the registrar must be wrong. Then when the JN asked him so show them his sheepskin, he explained that it must have been sent to his parents, but he doesn’t know where it is.
If your road needs to be resurfaced and it doesn’t happen, don’t blame our underfunded highway department. The $160,000 it received in CHIPS funds from the state this year will not go very far, and it doesn’t look like Ramapo is going to be able to float a new highway bond.
In just two years Ramapo’s bond rating has gone down from a poor A1 to a very poor A3. The only reason it isn’t worse is that Ramapo has a large tax base and Moody’s knows that municipal bond holders will always be repaid even it requires a drastic cut in municipal services.
Anyone who wants a description of how St. Lawrence has conducted our municipal finances can, of course, read the federal and SEC indictments against him. A more interesting read is the $8,000,000 lawsuit filed against St. Lawrence, four of his town employees and the town of Ramapo itself by Melissa Reimer who ran our finance department.
When it became apparent to her that St. Lawrence’s manipulation of Ramapo’s books was improper, and she was unable to interest anyone at town hall, she recorded two years of financial discussions and passed them on to the FBI. Her lawsuit is essentially a chronological recounting of exactly what she believes went on for the years before she was suspended by Ramapo.
Melissa Reimer claims she was slandered and libeled and suspended without cause. She is still suspended because St. Lawrence hasn’t had the guts to fire her. I am sure the JN will cover her lawsuit against these parties and their criminal and civil trials.”
Robert Rhodes, Chairman of Preserve Ramapo