Nearly two years ago when Forest City Ratner was named as what appeared to be an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal bribery and corruption indictment concerning the developer's Ridge Hill project there was much wondering, here and here, about how it was that Forest City, as The Times puts it today, walked between the legal raindrops.
And while we appreciate Michael Powell's column raising those questions and connecting those dots in yesterday's paper, we do wonder why it has taken two years to connect those dots. What dots?
Now comes the really intriguing part about who put the briber up to bribing the bribee and where did the briber get the money to bribe the bribee:
A Developer Between Legal Clouds
...Last week, the lobbyist Richard Lipsky stood in a courtroom to acknowledge bribe-making. His partner in crime, Carl Kruger, the former state senator and a Brooklyn Democrat, had taken his tear-soaked turn two weeks earlier. They face years in prison.
A few weeks from now, in the same courthouse, a Democratic Yonkers councilwoman and her cousin, the city's Republican Party chairman, are expected to stand trial. They are accused of bribery, extortion and tax evasion.
The Brooklyn and Yonkers cases are not simply about wayward politicians. The cases share an intriguing tie to the developer Bruce Ratner, who in project after project deploys lobbyists and politicians to change zoning ordinances and chase down rich packets of subsidies.
I should emphasize that Mr. Ratner has walked between the legal raindrops. Federal prosecutors have not implicated him or his company, Forest City Ratner, in either of these corruption cases.
But he figures prominently enough that the indictments identify him as "Developer No. 1" in Brooklyn and "Developer No. 2" in Yonkers. In Brooklyn, he has pushed the 22-acre Atlantic Yards development, including an arena and residential towers. Forest City Ratner was the development partner for the headquarters of The New York Times Company.
Mr. Ratner has a political maestro's touch. His vice president, Bruce Bender, is a stalwart of the Democratic Party's powerful Thomas Jefferson Club in south Brooklyn. Its members — Mr. Kruger, Councilman Lewis A. Fidler and State Senator John L. Sampson — quickly championed this project.
Mr. Bender was a hound to the chase after public subsidies. In 2009, the city's Independent Budget Office concluded that the arena deal would cost the city $40 million more than it would generate in tax revenue over 30 years.
Mr. Ratner, by contrast, would haul in $726 million in special public benefits.
When the Ridge Hill trial starts it will be fascinating to see what comes light regarding Forest City Ratner's (and most likely Bruce Bender's) role in the bribery scheme.
The Yonkers case has received less attention, yet raises perhaps more troubling questions. On a hilltop on the northern edge of Yonkers, Mr. Ratner wanted to build an 81-acre luxury mall and housing complex called Ridge Hill.
But surrounding towns feared snarls of traffic, and the county planning board voted the project down in 2005.
Mr. Ratner had a patented response. He hired the former counsel to a powerful Yonkers politician as well as the city's Republican chairman, Zehy Jereis. And Assemblyman Michael Spano of Yonkers resigned his seat to take a job in the lobbying firm Patricia Lynch & Associates. Ms. Lynch was former top aide to the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and, as chance would have it, an Albany lobbyist for Forest City Ratner.
Mr. Spano now is mayor of Yonkers.
Yet for all this, Mr. Ratner found himself in a bind in 2006. He lacked the votes to overturn the planning board. Sandy Annabi, the Democratic council leader, stood as his most outspoken opponent.
ACCORDING to the federal indictment, these machinations revived the Ridge Hill project:
On June 2, 2006, Mr. Jereis, the Yonkers Republican chairman, met with a Ratner official at a restaurant. A week later, Mr. Jereis brought along his cousin, Ms. Annabi, to chat with the official.
Five days later, Ms. Annabi announced she would support Ridge Hill. (Mr. Ratner's shop drafted the news release for her.) Mr. Ratner agreed to hire Mr. Jereis as a consultant for his company, once Ms. Annabi voted yes.
The City Council approved the zoning change on July 11, 2006.
Three months later, Mr. Jereis signed a $5,000-per-month consulting contract with Mr. Ratner.
In January 2010, federal prosecutors accused Ms. Annabi of selling her vote "for baubles and trinkets" and indicted her, and Mr. Jereis.
So many questions remain, not the least of which is where the money came from. Prosecutors say Mr. Jereis gave Ms. Annabi a $160,000 shower of bribes.
Back in Brooklyn, similar questions remain. Mr. Lipsky shared $252,000 worth of his lobbying fees with Mr. Kruger; the source of that money is unclear...