Bruce Bender, the former vice president of the Government and Public Affairs department for Forest City Ratner Companies [FCRC], and previously the former Chief of Staff for former New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone was returned to the witness stand this morning. The finishing touches to the template that defines economic development projects throughout the nation were revealed. The $1 or eminent domain land grabs, the political arm twisting, the lunches and dinners in which one protagonist after another would have his hand in the cookie jar was revealed. The hands were at the ready to earn cash, influence, jobs, or other form of patronage. Whether plotted or planned the government allegations of bribery, among other charges, against former Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi, and former Yonkers GOP Chairman Zehy Jereis, were telling.
Mr Bender revealed that an operation known as FC Acquisition LLC is one he was unfamiliar. It was the operation under which Zehy Jereis was paid $15,000 in mid-December 2006, for work performed by Mr Jereis on behalf of FCRC during the months of June, July, and August of that same year. The $15,000 is often referred to as a $60,000 contract between FCRC and Mr Jereis, who was only paid once, and for a total of $15,000, and no more. Remuneration was afforded Mr Jereis for being the only individual to have facilitated an audience by FCRC personnel with regard to the Ridge Hill Development Project with Ms Annabi, and for finding and suggesting land parcels for future development throughout Westchester County.
Then Yonkers City Councilwoman Patricia McDow (District 1) would only commit to casting a vote for the Ridge Hill Development project if, as she was promised by lobbyist Melvin Lowe, to deliver $10,000 in favor of Westchester Invaders, a local marching band.
Mr Bender repeated the assertion he made the previous day, Monday, February 27, 2012, that he believed it was his persuasiveness, and that of his team, that convinced Ms Annabi to the merits of the Ridge Hill Development Project. Mr Bender also easily concurred that Mr Jereis was a strong advocate for the project.
John Swagerty worked as vice president in Retail Development for FCRC with regard to the Ridge Hill Development Project from 2002 through 2011. He has since opened and operates the White Plains’ Arcadia Realty Trust. His responsibilities for FCRC was to oversee large scale development projects and lease up, find and contract stores) for the property. He also oversaw the zoning changes required to imprint and thereby make real the Ridge Hill Development. He was entrusted to oversee environmental impact, traffic impact, and the impact on city services, and SEQRA processes.
Mr Swagerty answered to Richard Pessin, executive vice president of the FCRC Retail Group. Mr Pessin’s boss was Bruce Bender.
Mr Bender and Scott Cantone were the only people to speak to local officials.
Mr Swagerty advised that what began, as a $400 million project would escalate to a $60 million project.
Mr Swagerty recounts how on June 14, 2006, he would attend the Yonkers City Council over which he would send an email to Mssrs Bender, Cantone, and Pession, to advise that the meeting was “bad, bad, bad,” because Ms Annabi, Barbato, and Mr Murtagh divulged they would not attend a subsequent meeting the following week as announced by then Yonkers City Council President Richard Martinelli. At that time, a super majority, that is, 5 votes would be needed to approve the Ridge Hill Development Project rather than a simple majority of 4 votes.
When Hon. Nicholas Colabella, Supreme Court Judge ruled that a 5 vote,or super majority vote was required to move the Ridge Hill Development Project ahead, Ms Annabi’s demand for $10 million return to the city coffers, which translates to 1.5 percent in relationship to a $600 million project, as well as traffic mitigation, and an educational fund, her argument became more urgent. Ms Annabi, former councilwoman Dee Barbato, and former councilman John Murtagh were he lead plaintiffs in that lawsuit.
Franco Milio, of Milio Management Corp., is a family owned real estate holdings, developer and property rental firm that began operations in 1997. The company was formed by Franco’s father Antonio and his uncle Giuseppe under a 50/50 partnership. Many of the Milio progeny are involved in the conduct of the business which presently consists of 36 properties generally located in southern Westchester, Dobbs Ferry, Mount Vernon, Yonkers, and The Bronx. Under oath, Franco Milio admitted that the tax evasion plea entered into by Milio Management Corp, as well as those office holders in the form, extracted the most recent 3 years worth of tax evasion practice from its 15 years of tax evasion practice to which they will suffer no ramification abiding by an agreement with the government. Milio management Corp., and some office holders have been asked to file returns for the three years in question. They never paid Yonkers Tax, State, or Federal tax, Social Security, FICA, or any other alleged fees demanded of them as a corporate structure. They never issued a 1099 or W2 form. They also admit to have paid as little as $25,000 to as much as $300,000 in cash in under the table transactions.They also had a predominant practice of confining their employees to those who were allegedly undocumented workers. They conduct of subterfuge functioned under a guise in which they collected large rental fees in cash, and paid cash to their employees. The also purchased properties in which they would agree to one price, pay less than the agreed upon purchase price, and paid the remainder in cash to lower their carrying burden, among other fees, that went toward deceiving the government. Milio Management Corp., was adept at paying cash under the table. Sources that demanand anonymity have advised that they are known large financial contributors to County Executive Rob Astorino’s past campaigns.
The Milio’s owned property they wished to “swap” for the right, as “designated developers,” to develop School 6, the Longfellow Junior High School, and a Walgreens and adjacent parking lot. They hoped to convince the community that market rate housing was the way to go. Ms Annabi, listening to the admonition expressed by her district constituency agreed the project was a non-starter, unless the project could be built as a senior facility, that is a somewhat subsidized property.
Franco Milio testified that there was one meeting in which he met Anthony Mangone at Mr Mangone’s Hawthorne, New York, office at which Mr Jereis attended and departed the meeting advising Mr Mangone to call him Mr Jereis if he could be of help.
Mr Mangone arranged for Mr Franco Milio to drop off $30,000 in Mr Mangone’s office but that if Mr Mangone was not in attendance at the agreed upon drop off date that Mr Mangone’s secretary/assistant Jill Allen’s (spelling), could be trusted to accept the cash because she was “cool!”
Mr Franco Milio told his father, Mr Antonio Franco of the arrangement and Mr Antonio Franco delivered $40,000 to Mr Mangone’s office. This payment took place one or two days prior to the June 14, 2006 Real Estate Committee Meeting, but it was not until September of 2006 that the Milio’s were able to win the “Designated developer” status they so desired.
Ed Sheeren, the Yonkers Economic Development tsar suggested Mr Franco Milio incorporate the legal services of Al Delbello, which he did. Eight months later, Mr Mangone was also hired by Mr Franco Milio as adjunct legal counsel to Mr Delbello’s effort for other concerns.
Mr Mangone also introduced Mr Franco Milio to Michael Santangello, one of Mr Mangone’s legal partners over a government issued subpoena which showed interest in the Milio’s business operations and dealings.
Mr Franco Milio advised Mr Santangello of the $30,000 cash payment demanded by Mr Mangone but was later admonished by Mr Mangone in a meeting held at the ground floor hot tub venue in their office building.
Mr Mangone also introduced Mr Franco Milio to another lawyer, Matt Libous, in reference to a property on Miles Square Road. Mr Matt Libous is the son of Senator Tom Libous who represents Broome, Tioga, and Chenango Counties.
Prior to the September City Council vote Mr Mangone, referring to Ms Annabi, said Ms Annabi was “Dicking Franco around!”
The September approval of the Milio’s “designated developer” status by a Yonkers City Council vote of 7-0.
Mr Franco Milio spoke to the time Mr Mangone set up a meeting at which Mr Franco Milio’s cousin attended, as did Dominic Milio, Romeo Milio, Joe Gregaro (spelling may be in error), to which Nick Spano stopped by at the Reno’s Ristorante, located on Lockwood Avenue.
Mr Franco Milio was never told Mr Jereis had any influence or sway over the land swap/$1 deal for the School 6, Longfellow/Walgreens project.
Despite having won “designated developer” status, the Melio’s have not begun the project, the buildings they were to develop are in the same or likely worse shape now than in 2008.
The Milio’s entered a guilty plea of tax evasion and a cooperation agreement on February 3, 2012.
Mr Franco Milio will again testify Wednesday, February 29, 2012.