Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tracking the Tentacles of Corruption

On Friday, former State Senator Nicholas A. Spano, scion of the county’s most powerful family, took a legal bullet, acknowledging in federal court that, yes, yes, he tried to sidestep paying taxes. His affect — he joked with reporters before entering court — suggested he might have expected worse. And this week, the curtain rises on a political bribery trial in Manhattan. It might appear a strictly Off Broadway production, as federal prosecutors ensnared a Democratic former Yonkers councilwoman, Sandy Annabi, and a couple of obscure operatives close to Mr. Spano.
But the trial is tantalizing for where its tentacles extend — linking political corruption in Westchester to that in Brooklyn, and touching on the curious fashion in which real estate developers pursue their chosen game.
Important details are shadowed in pretrial murk. Ms. Annabi stands accused of taking bribes to cast deciding votes for two large developments in Yonkers. But in the largest of these developments, Bruce Ratner’s 81-acre Ridge Hill project, prosecutors have not said how much money was forked over.
Anthony Mangone, a former Spano aide, has already pleaded guilty to bribery in the smaller development, and he is expected to be a crucial witness. His career offers a useful map of Westchester politics. In 2002, when he was on the Senate staff of Mr. Spano, he admitted to opening sealed absentee ballots and writing in his boss’s name. That sounds like filling out a claim ticket for a felony.
But as luck would have it, the grand jury chose not to indict him. Mr. Mangone’s mentor, Albert J. Pirro, was married to Jeanine Pirro, then the Westchester district attorney, and he helped Mr. Mangone land a job with a politically connected law firm.
An F.B.I. document obtained by The New York Times says that in 2003, a mobster in the Bronx was overheard on a wiretap telling friends that Mr. Mangone was ferrying messages between a Genovese crime family boss and criminal associates. The government never charged Mr. Mangone.
In the broader tale of Ridge Hill and Mr. Ratner, Mr. Pirro claims at least a cameo. In 2000, he was convicted of tax evasion; his law license was suspended. He was not left to rub pennies together. In 2002, Mr. Ratner hired Mr. Pirro to push the Ridge Hill project through.
All of which brings us to the role of the politically wired developer, whose projects are catnip to politicians. No prosecutor has implied that Mr. Ratner or his aides played a corrupt role. In Brooklyn, where he has a 22-acre development known as the Atlantic Yards, he was mentioned in the corruption case last year that toppled a Brooklyn Democratic power, State Senator Carl Kruger. Prosecutors called Mr. Ratner “Developer No. 1.” In Yonkers, he appears in Ms. Annabi’s indictment as “Developer No. 2.”
After I wrote last month of Mr. Ratner’s entanglements, several left-liberal sorts, not least former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, wrote to object that I had besmirched a fine fellow. The developer is a patron of liberal causes. He has set aside a significant number of apartments in his Atlantic Yards project for working-class tenants.
Much of this is true, as is this: Mr. Ratner wrangled $726 million in subsidies and benefits from the city and state, and he fights for even more by the week. (He was the developer of The New York Times building.) His willingness to tuck affordable apartments into his gleaming towers is perhaps a reasonable political tradeoff rather than a testament to his character.
Mr. Ratner relies, too, on phalanxes of former top officials to make his case. The less polite might call them fixers. So he hired Bruce Bender, a former top City Council aide and south Brooklyn Democratic power, as his senior vice president, and put Scott Cantone, a former Giuliani aide, in another post.
In Yonkers, which now resembles nothing so much as “Chinatown” by the Hudson, word is that at least one of Mr. Ratner’s aides could take the witness stand and testify about events that could prove deeply embarrassing.
Development, however, is not a sentimental game. Mr. Bender and Mr. Cantone announced recently that they had left Mr. Ratner’s employ. Mr. Ratner, too, has moved on.
This week, he hired Ashley Cotton. She worked for deputy mayor Robert K. Steel and then-Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo. As City and State newspaper quoted an insider: Hiring Ms. Cotton is “a clear indication that Ratner is trying to reboot.” 



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