Former Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi and Former Republican Chairman Zehy Jereis Sentenced to Six and Four Years in Prison for Corruption Crimes
|U.S. Attorney’s Office November 19, 2012|
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Sandy Annabi, the former Democratic Majority Leader of the Yonkers City Council, and Zehy Jereis, the former head of the Yonkers Republican Party, were sentenced today to six years and four years in prison respectively for their bribery and extortion convictions related to their sale of Annabi’s City Council seat.
On March 29, 2012, a jury found Annabi and Jereis guilty on all 11 counts after a seven-week trial before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon. As part of their corrupt scheme, Councilwoman Annabi accepted nearly $200,000 in secret payments from Jereis in exchange for taking official actions, including reversing her vote to approve two high-profile real estate development projects. Annabi was also convicted of making false statements to financial institutions related to loans she was seeking for two houses and an apartment in Yonkers, and for filing false federal income tax returns.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated, “Today’s sentencing of Sandy Annabi and Zehy Jereis turns the page on a sordid chapter in the history of the great city of Yonkers. The defendants cheated the public, and now they have been brought to justice. Public officials should understand that we have never been more committed to making sure that corruption does not pay.”
According to the evidence at trial and the superseding indictment originally filed in White Plains federal court:
Annabi was first elected to the Yonkers City Council in November 2001 to represent the Second District and was subsequently re-elected in 2003 and 2005. She served as the Democratic Majority Leader of the Council during the latter part of her third term in office. The Yonkers City Council’s primary function is to consider and vote on the city’s budget, zoning changes, and other legislation. Jereis served as chairman of the Yonkers Republican Party from the fall of 2003 through the fall of 2007. As the Party Chairman, his duties were to promote the Republican Party in Yonkers and to advance the interests of Republican elected officials and candidates. Jereis used his considerable influence and contacts to assist Annabi with all three of her successful campaigns.
Since Annabi first announced her candidacy for office in 2001, Annabi received nearly $200,000 in secret payments from Jereis and others in exchange for taking favorable actions in her official capacity on matters in which they had an interest and that were pending before the City Council. These matters included two real estate projects known as the Longfellow Project and the Ridge Hill Development project.
The Longfellow Project
In 2003, Yonkers developer Milio Management was seeking to redevelop an area of land, known as the Longfellow Project, that was partially located within the Council District represented by Annabi. During a City Council meeting on June 14, 2005, Annabi proclaimed her strong opposition to the project, stating, “Even if the entire community supported [it], I would be opposed.” She also said that the project was “outrageous” and a “slap in the face to the taxpayers of Yonkers.” Despite considerable effort, Milio Management was unable to move the project forward in the face of Annabi’s opposition.
In April 2006, Milio Management hired Westchester County attorney Anthony Mangone to assist in persuading Annabi to support the Longfellow Project. Shortly thereafter, Mangone arranged a meeting between a representative of Milio Management and Jereis. During the meeting, Jereis advised the representative that he could help persuade Annabi to support the project. Later, Mangone told Milio Management that for the project to proceed, the developer would have to pay Annabi $30,000 in exchange for her support. In the summer of 2006, Milio Management gave Mangone $30,000 in cash for Annabi. Mangone then gave $20,000 in cash to Jereis to give to Annabi. At a City Council meeting that September, Annabi reversed her long-held opposition to the Longfellow Project and voted in favor of awarding it to Milio Management. Shortly after receiving the $20,000, Annabi made several substantial cash and credit card purchases, including airline ticket upgrades, a Rolex watch, and a diamond necklace.
The Ridge Hill Project
The Ridge Hill Project was a proposal by developer Forest City Ratner to develop an 81-acre tract of land into retail, restaurant, and office space with hundreds of residential housing units, a hotel, and a conference center. Annabi was an outspoken critic of the proposed Ridge Hill Project and voted against both the project and legislation that would allow it to move forward over her opposition. Annabi and others also filed a civil lawsuit to effectively block the project. As the City Council was considering the Ridge Hill Project, Forest City Ratner made repeated and unsuccessful efforts to convince Annabi to vote in favor of the project.
On June 2, 2006, after being introduced to representatives of Forest City Ratner, Jereis advised them that he could arrange a meeting for them with Annabi. Jereis and representatives of Forest City Ratner also had an agreement in which the developer would give him a consulting job sometime after Annabi formally voted in favor of the Ridge Hill Project. After two meetings with Jereis and Forest City Ratner’s representatives, which were held five days apart, Annabi reversed her opposition to the Ridge Hill Project. On June 15, 2006, she issued a press release—drafted by Jereis and representatives of Forest City Ratner—informing the public of her support for the project. One month later, at a City Council meeting on July 11, 2006, Annabi voted in favor of the zoning change necessary for the Ridge Hill Project. Shortly after Annabi changed her vote on the Ridge Hill Project, Jereis received the promised consulting contract from Forest City Ratner worth $60,000 over one year.
Other Secret Payments to Annabi and Efforts to Conceal These Payments
Jereis also secretly gave Annabi money and purported loans to finance the purchase of two residential properties located outside of her Council District. To obtain favorable financing, Annabi contemporaneously submitted applications to two different banks, advising both that she intended to occupy the house for which she was seeking financing and concealing that she was seeking to borrow money from the other bank for a second house. The closings for the two loans occurred only three days apart. Furthermore, Annabi lived in one of these houses, which was outside of her Council District, despite state and local laws that required her as a councilmember to live within her District. Jereis then bought an apartment for Annabi within her Council District so she could meet the residency requirement. Jereis made the down payment on the apartment and the monthly mortgage payments. In addition, in her loan applications for one of the houses and for the apartment, Annabi falsely inflated her income. Her loan applications also included fake pay stubs, W-2s, and bank statements.
From 2002 through 2007, Annabi affirmatively concealed the illegal benefits she received from Jereis and others by filing annual financial disclosure statements that intentionally omitted the illegal payments. Annabi also filed false income tax returns in 2005 and 2006.
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Annabi, 42, and Jereis, 40, both of Yonkers, New York, were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to make and accept corrupt payments, one count of conspiracy to deprive the city of Yonkers and its citizens of Annabi’s honest services, one count of receiving corrupt payments, and one count of extortion. Annabi was also convicted of one count of receiving corrupt payments, three counts of making false statements to a bank, and two counts of filing false tax returns. Jereis was also convicted of one count of making corrupt payments.
Mangone was initially charged with Annabi and Jereis in January 2010. He pled guilty on November 29, 2010, to conspiracy, bribery, extortion, and tax evasion charges and is awaiting sentencing.
In addition to their prison terms, Annabi and Jereis were each sentenced by Judge McMahon to two years of supervised release, and each ordered to forfeit $209,501.99. In addition, Annabi was ordered to forfeit $1,060,800. The defendants were also ordered to pay $13,884 in restitution to the city of Yonkers, representing a portion of Annabi’s salary, and $64,071 to reimburse the city of Yonkers for legal fees. Annabi was also ordered to pay $164,460.68 to PNC Bank. In addition, Annabi was ordered to pay $33,000 for the costs of prosecution to the United States Government. Judge McMahon ordered the defendants to surrender on or before March 4, 2013.
Mr. Bharara praised the work of the FBI and the IRS-Criminal Investigation Division.
The case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason P.W. Halperin and Perry A. Carbone are in charge of the prosecution.