News story from James Nani of the Times Herald-Record
“Kenneth Nakdimen of Monsey pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to committing voter fraud in the 2014 Bloomingburg village election.
Nakdimen, 64, partnered with developer Shalom Lamm to build the Chestnut Ridge housing project in Bloomingburg.
In December, Lamm and Nakdimen, along with Volvy Smilowitz of Monroe, were charged with conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process, also known as voter fraud.
Federal prosecutors say they filed falsified voter registrations, paid for voter registrations and offered bribes for registrations and votes, all to swing the 2014 village election in an effort to seat a mayor and trustees who would be favorably disposed toward their project. On Thursday, Nakdimen admitted that was all true.
The developers had started buying properties in and around Bloomingburg in 2006, with the goal of building the Chestnut Ridge project and reaping millions of dollars in profit, prosecutors said.
At the time of the arrests, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said “the defendants, and others working on their behalf, developed and worked on a plan to falsely register numerous people who were not entitled to register and vote in Bloomingburg, because they actually lived elsewhere. People the defendants falsely sought to register to vote in Bloomingburg included those who never intended to live in Bloomingburg, those who had never kept a home in Bloomingburg, and indeed, some who had never even set foot in Bloomingburg in their lives.”
Lamm and Smilowitz have pleaded not guilty.
In court on Thursday, several members of Nakdimen’s family sat in the gallery before his sentencing. Two women read from small red books, mouthing the words silently.
It then came out that Nakdimen had reached a deal with prosecutors to serve 6-12 months in prison and pay a fine in the range of $2,000-$20,000 in exchange for his guilty plea. It will be up to the judge to accept or reject that agreement at sentencing, which is set for Sept. 7. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and fines up to $250,000.
Reading from a statement in court, Nakdimen admitted to the scheme, apologized for his actions and said he would not do it again. Nakdimen said the Chestnut Ridge development was originally intended and approved to be a golf course and retirement community. But, “because of the real estate collapse,” developers began to look for another population that could instead occupy the housing en masse.
“This turned our attention to the Hasidic community,” Nakdimen said.
But when local groups began organizing against the community, he said a plan was hatched to get voters into the community before the village election.
“Our reaction to that was to try to fight back to get people in there earlier,” Nakdimen said.
Nakdimen admitted that “the rules were broken and the laws were broken” due to the plot. And he said it was “substantially accurate” that the conspirators backdated false lease agreements for uninhabited Bloomingburg properties they owned and planted household items like toothbrushes and toothpaste to make unoccupied apartments appear lived in.
Judge Vincent Briccetti asked Nakdimen why he and others were so eager to have those voters from outside the village vote in the election.
“Basically to maintain the current administration,” Nakdimen said.
In a statement, Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim called fair elections “the bedrock of democracy.”
“As he has now admitted, Kenneth Nakdimen devised a scheme to advance his real estate project by falsely registering voters and corrupting this sacred process. We will not allow greed to influence elections at any level,” Kim said.
After his plea, Nakdimen shook hands with several young men that sat in the gallery near his family and kissed them on their cheeks. Neither Nakdimen nor his attorney, Mark Harris, had any comment. He remains out of jail on $200,000 bond.
Outside of the courthouse, several of the men who sat with Nakdimen’s family attempted to shield him from photographs by swarming a reporter and shoving open umbrellas in his way. At least one of the men called a reporter “fake news” as Nakdimen was hurried into a car that pulled up outside of the courthouse.
In a statement, Town of Mamakating Supervisor William Hermann called the voter fraud scheme a “terrible injustice against our town” that “represents the beginning of the unraveling of a major corruption scandal.” He said he expects more charges to follow. Bloomingburg is in Mamakating.
“This is the first step in vindication for the entire community that has fought so hard to expose the efforts of Nakdimen and his co-conspirators, Shalom Lamm and Volvy Smilowitz,” Hermann said. “The fraud they committed on our town and the evil that they perpetuated must be fully revealed. Something very wrong went on here.”
One of Lamm’s attorneys, Gordon Mehler, said he couldn’t speculate on how Nakdimen’s plea would affect his client’s case and had no other comment.
Mamakating resident Holly Roche launched the Rural Community Coalition to “battle the corruption connected to this large development.”
“The fact that he apologized is insane,” she said. “Mr. Nakdimen is only sorry that he got caught. It wasn’t limited to one election in 2014. There’s been election fraud in every election since 2014 to date. I’m expecting there will be more indictments in connection with this case.”