Apr 14th - 12:27 pm
Ramapo Supervisor Christoper St. Lawrence has become the latest elected official to be indicted following an investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.
Bharara on Thursday announced St. Lawrence, a Democrat who ran for lieutenant governor briefly in 2010, faces securities and wire fraud charges in connection to the municipal financing of baseball stadium.
Also being charged in the case is Aaron Troodler, the former executive director of the Ramapo Local Development Corp.
In an indictment released on Thursday morning, Bharara lays out an effort to conceal the scope of budgetary issues facing the financing of a stadium, which had ballooned in cost to taxpayers and misleading statements to investors of municipal bonds.
The case is believed to be the first involving fraud stemming from municipal bonding.
“As alleged, Christopher St. Lawrence and N. Aaron Troodler kicked truth and transparency to the curb, selling over $150 million of municipal bonds on fabricated financials,” Bharara said.
“In doing so, they defrauded both the citizens of Ramapo and thousands of municipal bond investors around the country. The $3.7 trillion municipal bond market is no place for fraud and manipulation; there should be no tolerance for it. Whether you are a publicly listed company or a municipality, you are not allowed to cook the books, plain and simple. And whether you are state legislator responsible for enacting laws or a municipal executive responsible for a town’s finances, you must be accountable.”
The case stems from an effort to build a minor league baseball stadium in Ramapo, Provident Bank Park. The development corporation had issued $25 million in bonds to pay for the construction of the stadium.
But prosecutors, along with Bharara and Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, say both St. Lawrence and Troodler misled investors in both bonds for the town and the development corporation in order to hide the state of Ramapo’s budgetary problems through concocting false assets.
At the same time, St. Lawrence inflated the size of the town’s general fund with a series of fake receivables of more than $3 million from 2010 through 2015.
Bharara’s office notes in the indictment FBI agents raided the town hall in May 2013, but only 10 days later St. Lawrence released yet another receivable prosecutors say was fraudulent, which they also said was worth more than $3 million.
Meanwhile, St. Lawrence pumped up the size of the town’s fund balance by more than $12 million through transfers from the ambulance fund between 2009 and 2014.
State law requires that transfers from funds with different taxes can be only be loans, not fungible money. St. Lawrence insisted to auditors and town board members at the time the funds had the same tax base.
Feb 8th - 6:13 pm
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Monday in Albany joked that, unlike Bruce Springsteen’s hit song, he’s not looking to run for anything anytime soon.
“Given that Bruce Springsteen is in town: I was not born to run,” said Bharara, an affirmed Springsteen fan, said to the audience groaning at the pun.
Bharara was interview at WAMC’s The Linda performing arts center in Albany, following a day visiting the state’s capital city to attend the Conference of Mayors’s winter meeting as well as the swearing in of Janet DiFiore, the new chief judge.
But Bharara in an interview with WAMC’s Alan Chartock indicated — at first lightly and later more seriously — that he wants to stay in his job as the prosecutor of the Southern District of New York, arguably one of the most high-profile posts in the U.S. Department of Justice.
When it was pointed out that a new president taking office in 2017 will likely appointed their own prosecutors, Bharara joked, “The new president could like me, too.”
Bharara’s success at bringing prominent corruption cases — as well as his urge for state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to push for stringent new ethics measures in the wake of the cases — has led to speculation he would join the ranks of former prosecutors like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie who jumped into elected office.
But Bharara insisted he loves his current job.
“I think it’s the best job I’ve ever had, it’s the best I ever will have,” he said. “The only thing I ever wanted to be when I went to law school was to be an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York”
Bharara in the forum also defined how a prosecutor’s job should work when it comes to bringing cases or walking away from the ones he can’t make.
“The job of the prosecutor is not to sock up convictions, notch victories in his or her belt,” he said. “It’s to do the right thing, it’s to do justice, to make sure you bring cases that are righteous and walk away from cases that are righteous to walk away from.”
He added: “That’s a nice to go to sleep every night. Why would I ever want to walk away from that?”
As for his favorite Springsteen song, Bharara was unequivocal.
“Thunder Road,” he said. “Thunder Road is the best Springsteen song.”
Jan 29th - 12:36 pm
“I am not,” Bharara said.
Asked if he would considering joining the cabinet as U.S. attorney general should Hillary Clinton win the presidency, Bharara sidestepped the question, but didn’t rule it out.
“I’ll wait till that happens,” he said.
Bharara appeared the criminal justice school’s American Justice System, fielding questions on Wall Street prosecutions, terrorism cases and, of course, political corruption.
In the interview, Bharara defended speaking out on issues like public corruption, which he has been rebuked for in recent years, and compared Wall Street wrongdoing to misdeeds in Albany.
Bharara’s office has successfully prosecuted nearly a dozen political figures and last year secured the convictions of the top two leaders in the state Senate as well as the ex-Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver.
As he has before, Bharara repeated a portion of a transcript from the case of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in which his son Adam groused that “it’s like f-ing Preet Bharara is listening to every f-ing phone call.”
“That was a moment that was interesting,” Bharara deadpanned.
More seriously, Bharara said the wiretap in the Skelos case was crucial to securing convictions.
“If we didn’t have the wiretaps with respect to the Senate majority leader, I’m not sure we would have been able to make that case,” he said.
Bharara compared the public corruption cases he’s pursued to the Wall Street malfeasance he’s seen over the years, saying it essentially boils down to the culture of an institution.
“Cultures matter. There’s more corruption in certain firms on Wall Street than others,” Bharara said. “There’s more corruption in certain state Capitols than others. What’s the difference? It’s the same job. I think a lot of that has to do with culture — a culture in which you police yourself, a culture in which people who think bad things are going on come forward and say something.”
At the same time, Bharara — who has been criticized by judges, state lawmakers and others for what they see has grandstanding — defending his willingness to be outspoken on issues like public corruption.
“I think it is ridiculous that a district attorney or a United States attorney who has learned something about what the root causes of crime might be and how the culture might be affected based on the cases were brought wouldn’t say something about it,” Bharara said. “I was invited here for a reason, presumably, and that’s to talk about those things.”
Bharara is scheduled to come to Albany on Feb. 8 to speak at the New York Conference of Mayors winter meeting.
Jan 20th - 12:13 pm
Thanks, but no thanks.
That was the message from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the prosecutor who has netted the convictions of nearly a dozen state lawmakers, including the two former legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate, after Republicans in the Assembly invited him to speak at the Capitol.
“Mr. Bharara respectfully declined our invitation, citing his preference to address a bipartisan forum,” said Mike Fraser, a spokesman for Minority Leader Brian Kolb. “We welcome an opportunity to participate in such an event, and will ask the other legislative leaders to extend an invitation similar to the one we offered.”
Assembly Republicans had invited Bharara last week to speak at the Capitol, seeking a similar forum in which the federal prosecutor traveled to Kentucky to discuss his public corruption cases.
Bharara’s visit could be an awkward event, however. He has bristled at what he sees as state lawmakers critical of his own prosecutions and investigations and as well as their efforts to address public corruption in state government.
Bharara earlier this month postponed a trip to Albany to speak at the Rockefeller School of Public Policy.
Also this month, Bharara announced his office had not found sufficient evidence to determine whether a federal crime had been committed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo or his administration in the reported interference and shutdown of the anti-corruption panel.
Bharara is said to be still investigation other areas of state government, including economic development programs in western New York.
Jan 11th - 7:05 pm
In 2013, former Erie County Assistant District Attorney Mark Sacha testified before the Moreland Commission. Sacha told members there was a fundamental problem with the way election fraud and public corruption were prosecuted in New York State because DA’s are political beings.
He was speaking from experience. In 2009, Sacha publicly criticized then-District Attorney Frank Sedita for not prosecuting a political operative Steve Pigeon and was swiftly fired.
Although he wasn’t present for Sacha’s testimony, Sedita was a member of the Moreland Commission. Sacha says he never had much faith the panel would help bring reform.
“I don’t know the Governor,” Sacha said. “I do know this, he handled the Moreland Commission improperly and by that I’m just saying what I know. It was a charade.”
Now he believes U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is making changes to public office. Sacha says not charging Cuomo doesn’t take away from that.
“I’m not shocked that there wasn’t sufficient evidence, but he’s already criticized the way in which Governor Cuomo treated the Moreland Commission like it was his own personal political tool,” he said.
Jan 6th - 5:36 pm
As the state Legislature convened for the first day of the 2016 session, the man who has been chiefly responsible for changing its leadership — and striking a chord of fear in lawmakers’ in the process — was in Kentucky.
There, before state lawmakers in the Bluegrass State, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was urging them to not follow their counterpart’s example in New York.
“What has been going on in New York government of late is simultaneously heart-breaking, head-scratching and comic,” he said. “This is a moment that calls for more than talk because there has been a lot of enabling of corruption up there. I hate to say it, but it’s true.”
The prosecutor, who in back-to-back cases won the convictions of former Speaker Sheldon Silver and the ex-Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, called on lawmakers to, in essence, provide a dose of peer pressure.
“It’s not for me to really lecture a room full of elected leaders, a subpoena-wielding prosecutor from up north,” Bharara said. “You know your oath, you know your duty, you know your privileged position. I just have a fairly simply point to make this morning: If you want to prevent corruption, don’t enable it. If you want to deter corrupt members, don’t become their willing accomplices.”
He added: “It is not just the corrupt actors that bear responsibility, but every enabler too.”
Bharara’s remarks in Kentucky come after what he described as a “season of prosecutions” and a “political corruption extravaganza” at the state Capitol in Albany.
He quoted transcripts from the Skelos case, in which his son Adam Skelos complained that it was like “f-ing Preet Bharara is listening to every phone call.”
“Well, we were listening to that call, too — as it turned out,” Bharara quipped.
New York’s state government “has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickback and rancid culture.”
“This never gets quoted in New York when I talk about corruption: There are countless honorable and ethical people serving in elected office and in every other political body in the country,” he said.
But Bharara reserved the majority of his scorn in his address for state lawmakers who have derided his prosecutorial efforts as an effort to paint state lawmakers with a broad brush of corruption.
“Blaming the prosecutors is not leadership,” Bharara said. “Kicking the can is not leadership. Accepting lies and half-truths is not leadership. Making excuses is not leadership. Whining is not leadership.”
Those who have criticized him are akin to “blaming firefighters for the fire.”
Lawmakers were non-committal and non-specific on what ethics reforms may be taken up in the new legislative session, which runs through June.
Good-government reform groups — NYPIRG, Common Cause and Citizens Union — rolled out a platform for reform, asking lawmakers sign a pledge committing to closing the LLC loophole in campaign finance law, limiting what lawmakers can earn outside of government work and expanding transparency measures.
“Albany has its Watergate moment now,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner.
Still, it remains to be seen what state lawmakers will or won’t do this session following 2015 being upended by the arrests of their top leadership.
“Make no mistake – over the coming weeks, discussions around proposals on ethics will be a priority of this house,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “The Assembly is serious about ethics reform and we know that words are not enough.”
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, meanwhile, pointing measures the Republican-led chamber has already approved.
“We should not apologize for the fact that we have chosen a noble profession for being involved in public service,” Flanagan said in his opening remarks of the session, “and I think we need to stand up for the traditions of the Senate in particular and speak proudly about this institution and the good things we actually do.”
Bharara, however, doesn’t appear to be in a mood to wait.
“This is a moment that calls for more than talk because there has been a lot of enabling of corruption up there,” Bharara said. “I hate to say it, but it’s true.”
WATCH Bharara’s entire speech here.
Dec 14th - 11:18 am
Fresh off the duel convictions of both the former Assembly speaker and majority leader in the state Senate, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Monday criticized state lawmakers for “whispered whining” of his prosecutions rather than focusing on how to fix corruption in state government.
“I think we now appreciate that even though there have been a few apples convicted, it seems something about everyone else,” Bharara said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “Through the course of all of this, there has been a little more whispered whining on the part of some legislators without attribution in the press than focus on how to solve the problem and focus on healing themselves.”
Bharara’s office has successfully prosecuted cases involving nearly a dozen former lawmakers accused of corruption. In the course of less than two weeks, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and ex-Speaker Sheldon Silver, have been found guilty on all counts of federal corruption charges, surrendering their seats in the Legislature as a result.
Bharara in the radio interview said the convictions should a moment for New Yorkers — especially members of the Legislature — to reflect.
“It’s a moment to reflect on what that means,” he said. “I think as I’ve said many times, there’s no doubt now that after two trials concluded, on top of several trials before that, there’s a deep problem of corruption in Albany.”
Bharara pointed to the testimony in the Skelos case of Queens Sen. Tony Avella, the chairman of the Senate Ethics committee, who has not held any hearings on the issues before his committee.
“Everyone has their part to play in making sure we have honest and clean government,” Bharara said. “The politicians themselves have a role in self-policing. The first line of defense is the institution itself. It seems based on Senator Avella’s testimony and others, they are doing a pretty poor job of self-policing.”
But as he has done before in interviews, Bharara declined to specifically provide input on what he thinks needs to be done, though he spoke favorably of both term limits for lawmakers as well as creating a full-time Legislature that would limit outside income.
“I think a lot of things should be discussed and on the table,” he said while adding, “It’s a little bit harder to get away with bribery, it’s harder to get away with extortion if there are strict limits on outside income.”
By the same token, Bharara refused to comment on any current investigations, including whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s remains under scrutiny for his decision to close down an anti-corruption panel after less than a year, a move that was preceded by an agreement on ethics measures in the state budget.
“I’m not going to talk about any investigations we have open,” Bharara said. “We have lots of investigations open.”
He added the caveat: “You shouldn’t read anything into what I’m saying.”
Nevertheless, Bharara said the commission was “on the right track” with its investigations.
“Fortunately, people in my office are pretty fearless and aggressive and picked up the ball where they dropped off,” he said.
Bharara last week also joined Twitter, but insisted his first post on the social media site was meant in jest.
“I said ‘stay tuned’ for more tweets,” he said. “It was a joke.”
Dec 10th - 12:49 pm
As alleged, this is my official Twitter account. And this, allegedly, is my first tweet. Stay tuned. . .
— US Attorney Bharara (@PreetBharara) December 10, 2015
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who has won convictions and indictments of top state lawmakers, officially joined Twitter this week.
And on Thursday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo was wrapping up his remarks at an event in which the state doled out $2 billion in economic development funds, Bharara chose that moment to post his first tweet.
And, true to form, it alluded to make things to come from an office that won the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and is in the middle of the corruption trial of Dean Skelos, the former majority leader of the Senate.
Bharara was reportedly investigating the circumstances surrounding contracting of another major economic development program from the Cuomo administration: the “Buffalo Billion” investment in western New York.
Sep 18th - 3:23 pm
Following reports that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has expanded his investigation of state government to SUNY Polytechnic and the “Buffalo Billion” economic development program, the school in a statement said none of its employees are the “target of any investigation.”
SUNY Polytechnic’s statement, issued by spokesman Jerry Gretzinger, touted the impact of the Buffalo economic development drive itself.
“The facts are clear: The Buffalo Billion will result in nearly 14,000 good paying and sustainable jobs in Western New York, $8 billion in new private investment and has changed the path of Buffalo now and for generations to come,” he said. ”We are confident that all processes regarding SUNY Poly projects in Buffalo were done appropriately. To our knowledge, neither SUNY Poly nor any of its employees are the target of any investigation.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, earlier in the day downplayed the significance of any subpoenas being issued by Bharara’s office.
“You can have investigations,” Cuomo said. “That does not mean there’s any there there or that anyone has done anything wrong. It doesn’t mean that because there’s an investigation there’s anything wrong.”
Aug 27th - 4:35 pm
In the statement, Bharara said his office will be coordinating with the Dutchess County district attorney, William Grady, to investigate the death of Samuel Harrell.
Harrell’s death was ruled a homicide, allegedly at the hands of guards at the state prison.
“My Office has been in communication with the office of Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady, and we will be coordinating and working with his office to investigate the April 21, 2015 death of Samuel Harrell, an inmate at Fishkill Correctional Facility,” Bharara said in the statement.
The federal investigation comes after the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision on Tuesday named a new superintendent at the facility, Robert Cunningham, after the removal of William Connolly.