“For those who had followed former Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence’s rise and fall, and years of ironclad rule in between, there was scant satisfaction in the sentence handed down Wednesday for his 20 federal corruption-related convictions: Two and a half years in prison; three years supervised release; a $75,000 fine.
Even his uncharacteristic apologies after his federal sentencing Wednesday — that he was “deeply ashamed” — provided a rather hollow and unsatisfying denouement to this final chapter of his political life.
What did him in? Vanity, it seems. His 20 convictions on fraud and conspiracy stemmed from an elaborate scheme to cook the books and fudge revenue to put a shine on the town’s sinking finances.
And why? To keep touting the benefits of his pet project, an independent league baseball stadium that pretty much no one else in town wanted. He covered up the financial drain caused by the Palisades Credit Union Stadium and other projects undertaken by the Ramapo Local Development Corp. and knitted revenue from those projects that didn’t exist.
Interestingly, St. Lawrence didn’t run into legal trouble for the lies he told the public about the stadium. In 2010, the supervisor swore he wouldn’t use public funds for the project after town voters rejected a ballot measure to guarantee loans for the stadium by more than 2 to 1. After some legal machinations, the town ended up guaranteeing loans for the stadium that’s home of the Rockland Boulders. People squawked and activist group Preserve Ramapo sued, but a judge ruled the scheme legal. Meanwhile, a state comptroller’s report in 2012 slammed opaque “comingled” finances between town and RLDC and questioned the true cost of the stadium.
St. Lawrence, the man who ruled Ramapo for more than 16 years, determined his own downfall.
For years, he was politically untouchable, voted in office again and again with the help of the powerful bloc vote that touts nearly 100 percent turnout among voters in the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic community. Meanwhile, ire grew over his perpetual downzoning and lax code enforcement in the eastern portion of town, as rampant growth fed his base but strained infrastructure, the East Ramapo school district and Ramapo’s suburban surroundings.
It’s been clear for a long time that St. Lawrence’s dishonest moves jeopardized the town’s fiscal health: Soon after St. Lawrence was indicted in 2016, Moody’s downgraded the town’s credit rating by two steps and gave the town a “developing” outlook. Moody’s cited the indictment and likely “delay in financial reporting and disclosure” and the uncertainty about the reliability of past financial information supplied by the town.
It’s also been clear that St. Lawrence’s actions and his government’s lack of transparency damaged the town’s reputation, fed community divisions and generally damaged the quality of life of Ramapo residents who remain worried about their future.”
Read the full text of The Journal News editorial here.