Plea deal seen in Queens mortgage-fraud scheme
Here’s an excerpt of my first byline in Crain’s! I’ve also been writing some for the Crain’s Insider, but can’t re-post the content here. Check that out here.
Southeast Queens real estate magnate Edul Ahmad has reached a tentative plea agreement with federal investigators on charges that he orchestrated a $50 million mortgage fraud scheme, according to documents filed Wednesday by the office of Eastern District U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
The plea agreement could have political implications. Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks, a close associate of Mr. Ahmad, has drawn scrutiny—and a House Ethics Committee investigation—for failing to disclose a $40,000 loan from Mr. Ahmad. Democratic Senate Minority Leader John Sampson is also considered a close associate of the real estate player.
Mr. Ahmad had been charged with luring immigrants, many from Guyana, into purchasing homes financed with subprime mortgages, inflating the values of the properties and concealing his identity in the transactions. “He submitted false loan applications and supporting documents to make borrowers of mortgage loans appear to be more creditworthy than they actually were,” the government alleged, stating that Mr. Ahmad, “essentially prevented the financial institutions from discovering that his fees exceeded those permitted by them. Many of the homes involved were ultimately lost in foreclosures because the borrowers could not afford to make their mortgage payments.”
For the next month (at least), I’m going to be spending much of my days writing the “Crain’s Insider” column for Crain’s New York Business, so posting on this blog may be rather light. Or, even lighter than it has been. Still, I plan on continuing to blog here as much as time permits.
The Politicker had a bit more on Friday about the new (temporary) gig:
Former City & State reporter Chris Bragg has landed at Crain’s Insider, at least for the time being, according to an email he sent out to his sources earlier this afternoon. “A quick FYI – Starting on Monday, I’ll be writing the Crain’s Insider for at least the next month, along with Andrew Hawkins,” Mr. Bragg wrote. “Whether this goes on longer depends on a few different factors with Crains’ business model, and my own plans, but should be fun for the moment!”
Juan Reyes Sends Mailer To Voters — From Ireland
Juan Reyes’ campaign is doing more than thinking a bit outside the box these days — it’s thinking outside the country.
First, Reyes, a Republican who is running for Senate in eastern Queens, sent out a six-minute DVD/mailer to Republican primary voters highlighting the fact that his heritage is far more diverse than his Latino last name would suggest.
Now, he’s sending out a postcard to Irish voters in Queens highlighting his Irish heritage — and, just to prove its authenticity, actually had the postcard sent to voters by a relative in the Emerald Isle.
The below postcard was designed in the United States by Reyes’ campaign, then shipped via FedEx to Reyes’ cousin, Catherine Lynch, who lives in County Cork, Ireland. According to Reyes’ campaign, Lynch then affixed an Irish stamp to the postcards, before mailing them back Irish voters in Queens.
Naturally, the mailer features pictures of Reyes’ Irish ancestors. And the postcard is addressed from Lynch herself.
Of course, winning Irish-American voters will be key when Reyes faces off on Thursday in an uphill battle against Queens Republican Councilman Eric Ulrich. The winner of the primary will face Democratic State Sen. Joe Addabbo.
Juan Reyes Irish Postcard
The A.G., the councilman, and the case of the missing member item
Here’s my latest for Capital New York about Queens Democratic Councilman Ruben Wills.
There are a lot of open questions about a $33,000 member item Wills received from his former boss, State Sen. Shirley Huntley, who was recently herself charged in a member item abuse scheme. Wills’ own grant, for a non-profit called New York 4 Life, is also now being probed by the attorney general’s office.
In the story, I wrote about a for-profit consulting firm run out of the same office as the non-profit:
The member item isn’t the only unsolved mystery involving Wills. The councilman also failed to report nearly $29,000 in income on his city-required financial disclosure form, which he got from a political consulting firm, Farmstone Consultants, which he ran from December 2009 through August 2010 at the same address as New York 4 Life, and which he shut down two weeks before he received the member-item money. (Wills was awarded the member item in 2008, but delayed accepting it until two years later until after he mounted a run for Congress.)
The consulting firm worked for three clients, including then-governor David Paterson’s quickly aborted 2010 re-election campaign.
A Wills spokeswoman acknowledged to me that the councilman failed to report the nearly $29,000 in income on his city-required financial disclosure form, but said that the disclosure statement had been amended, and the error had been unintentional.
“I am thankful that this matter was brought to my attention so that I could amend my disclosure statement as quickly as possible,” Wills added in a statement.
He previously said he would use the grant money to reimburse himself for previous out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the nonprofit, which was formed in 2006 to fight childhood obesity and financially empower residents in southeast Queens, according to documents filed by the charity. He incurred the expenses at the same time as he was running his for-profit consulting firm.
Senate Republicans Give $90,000 To Independence Party
The New York Senate Republicans have recently made $90,000 in donations to the campaign committee of the New York Independence Party, according to 24-hour notices posted on the Board of Elections website and the Independence Party’s most recent campaign finance filing. Two of the donations were made in August, while a $50,000 donation was made on September 6.
The donations to the Independence Party, led by chairman Frank MacKay, would seem to demonstrate the renewed closeness of the relationship between that party, whose influential ballot line can provide the margin of victory in close elections under New York’s fusion voting system, and the GOP.
For years, the Independence Party, which had close relations with erstwhile Senate Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno, primarily supported Republican candidates. In 2010, when Democrats held the majority, the endorsements largely went to incumbents of either party.
With Republicans back in control of the majority – and after providing the necessary four votes to pass the gay marriage bill, which MacKay supported – the Independence Party has thrown its line to the Republicans in a number of key races. For instance, the party is backing State Sen. Mark Grisanti (who it did not back in 2010), Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich (after backing his opponent, Democratic State Sen. Joe Addabbo in 2010) and Westchester Republican Bob Cohen, who is running for an open seat.
As of July, the Independence Party’s campaign account had virtually no money on hand. In fact, all of its various committees (including its housekeeping account) had been rather bereft compared to past years, when its coffers were flooded by money from the real estate industry and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Of course, a $1.2 donation in 2009 from Bloomberg, passed through the Independence Party’s housekeeping account, went rather awry. Political operative John Haggerty was convicted on charges of stealing $750,000 from Bloomberg’s campaign late last year, while the Independence Party also had to repay $150,000 in funds it received from Bloomberg.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that money won’t flow in the Independence Party’s account as Election Day approaches. The party also got $60,000 through two donations from the real estate industry in August, campaign finance records show, and some $80,000 more in recent days.
Responding to Lopez, Simon and Millman Rounding Up Their Own Proxies
In response to Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s attempt to round up proxy votes for the election to replace him as Kings County Democratic Party leader, district leader Jo Anne Simon and Assemblywoman Joan Millman have now sent a letter to county committee members doing the same.
You may have recently received a post card asking you to return a proxy to Vito Lopez for the upcoming organizational meeting of the Kings County Democratic Committee.
Do not sign or return it. By signing that proxy you allow Vito Lopez to continue to exert his influence on Brooklyn Democratic politics. In the face of the scandal that has enveloped Vito in the past weeks, he has demonstrated there is no role for him in public or political office.
Even though Vito Lopez said publically he won’t run for re-election as Chair of the Kings County Democratic Committee Member, that has not stopped him from collecting proxies and making calls for his candidate to replace him as County Chair.
You can help stop Vito Lopez by signing and returning this proxy for either (not both) Joan Millman or Jo Anne Simon. You can also attend the September 19th meeting, if you wish. Thank you in advance for your help!
The New Kings Democrats, allied on this issue with Simon and Millman, put out a press release yesterday denouncing Lopez’s move to round up his own proxy votes, which apparently included moving the Kings County Democratic Party meeting 30 blocks from the nearest subway, away from its usual location.
Frank Seddio is presumed to have the votes to replace Lopez, though Assemblyman Karim Camara and Simon herself have made noise about running for the spot.
Storobin and Felder Submit Final Arguments In Petition Fraud Appeal
On Thursday, an appellate court judge will hear oral arguments in the case involving alleged petition fraud committed by Republican State Sen. David Storobin.
In Brooklyn Supreme Court, Storobin recently successfully fought off a lawsuit by his Democratic opponent, ex-Brooklyn Councilman Simcha Felder, to throw Storobin off the ballot for incorrectly listing the information of woman who was actually deceased on his petition signatures.
Now, Felder’s campaign has filed an appeal, and the two sides have gone back and forth in legal briefs submitted to the appellate court. Storobin’s response to Felder’s appeals — as well as Felder’s final brief submitted to the court — are posted below.
There’s a rather interesting intro to the Felder brief, which was penned by top election lawyer Larry Mandelker:
“Former heavyweight champion Joe Louis once said of his opponent, the fleet of foot Billy Conn, “He can run, but he can’t hide.” The same applies to respondent Storobin.”
Meanwhile, Storobin’s brief several times mentions his special election victory this spring over Councilman Lew Fidler, noting that it represented an “extraordinary upset of the Brooklyn political machinery.” Storobin’s attorney notes that Filder’s campaign also charged him with petitioning fraud during the narrow recount of that election.
Storobin Appellate Brief - Final Draft
Felder’s final brief:
Fedler Reply Brief 8.31.12
Who Made the Akselrod “Typo”?
(Via Sheepshead Bites)
The campaign treasurer for Brooklyn Assembly candidate Ben Akselrod has now resigned over a very controversial mailer sent out by the campaign which (apparently accidentally) contained the word “negrohood.”
But who actually made the typo and designed the mailer? Gatemouth says that it was made by Akselrod campaign consultant Gary Tilzer, and I’ve heard the same thing from three other well-connected Brooklyn sources.
I emailed Tilzer about this a couple times yesterday and haven’t heard anything back.
I find this mainly interesting because anyone who has read Tilzer’s blog, True News, knows that he’s not exactly a stickler for the King’s English there, either, which could help explain the “typo.”
Akselrod is running in a southern Brooklyn Democratic primary against Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz. The winner will take on Republican Russell Gallo.
Tilzer, notably, has worked before on Cymbrowitz’s campaigns, according to campaign finance records.
Gounardes Politely Declines To Seek NRA Endorsement
The campaign of Brooklyn Democratic Senate candidate Andrew Gounardes provided a copy of a press release he’s sending out later, in which the candidate says he’s not exactly going full force for the National Rifle Association’s endorsement.
In a release entitled,”Andrew Gounardes To NRA: Thanks, But No Thanks,” the Democrat, who is running against Republican State Sen. Marty Golden, reveals that he received a candidate questionnaire from the NRA yesterday.
According to the release, Gounardes unsurprisingly is not seeking the gun lobby nod:
“I have no interest in being endorsed by the NRA. In fact, if for some reason they decided to endorse me, I would decline the endorsement.”
…”We may disagree on a lot of issues, but for the sake of Brooklyn and New York City, can we at least agree that the NRA has no place in New York City politics? I am asking Marty Golden to join me in refusing to seek the endorsement of the NRA.”
Guns have become a hot-button issue in this race, which is being targeted by the Senate Democrats. Democratic State Sen. Mike Gianaris, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, introduced a package of anti-gun bills in the wake of the serial mass shooting around the country. Golden, a former cop, followed with his own set of bills, which Mayor Bloomberg, an ally, apparently called “ridiculous” last Friday in a radio interview.
Gounardes has also persistently criticized Golden for ducking a vote on a gun microstamping bill that nearly passed the state Senate in 2010, and Bloomberg said in the radio interview on Friday that “It’s microstamping, or they don’t have to waste their time.”
According to Goundardes’ campaign, the NRA questionnaire asked if candidates agreed with the NRA on licensing, back-round checks, high powered weapons, safety concerns and, notably, microstamping.
Gounardes’ campaign says that Golden has enjoyed an ‘A’ rating from the NRA. Of course, the gun lobby has proven quite effective across the country, though in New York City (even in a fairly conservative part of Brooklyn) its likely less popular.
Would a JCOPE Investigation Into Vito Lopez Settlement Matter?
I got an interesting email last night from former Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, where he related a conversation with the former executive director of the state Temporary Commission on Lobbying David Grandeau.
According to Benjamin there’s apparently some question as to whether a JCOPE investigation into the secretive $103,000 settlement between Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and a staffer who accused Vito Lopez of sexual harassment would procedurally matter in the end:
“Earlier today I asked David Grandeau what would result if JCOPE opened an investigation into the Lopez affair and Shelly authorizing the financial settlement. He shared with me that “no matter what [JCOPE finds] they have to refer it to legislative ethics for action. And the Assembly has already taken action.”
IMHO the editorial boards got played by Cuomo. Legislative appointees on JCOPE can block a redundant investigation. Lopez’s alleged conduct was awful, unseemly and uncouth but probably not criminal. Shelly certainly didn’t break any laws.
Grandeau, of course has emerged as a persistent critic of the new ethics body, JCOPE, created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Benjamin is a former member of the Assembly, led by Silver.
I’m no expert on JCOPE myself, but it seems there would be a lot of pressure to at least let an investigation go forward and get more facts, especially with Cuomo calling for it and Silver agreeing? If anyone has more thoughts on this feel free to get in touch.