NY corruption investigation: FBI raids Ramapo Town Hall, seizes documents, hard drives

FBI agents enter Ramapo Town Hall in Airmont.

FBI agents enter Ramapo Town Hall in Airmont. (May 15, 2013)

Seizing documents and hard drives, FBI agents concluded their raid of Ramapo Town Hall just before midnight Wednesday.

About 40 federal agents executed a search warrant which began just before 4 p.m. for financial documents related to yet another corruption probe affecting a Rockland County community, sources said.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, whose investigators were assisting FBI agents with the raid, said the search is not related to the ongoing corruption investigation that swept up six political figures last month, including Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens).


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FBI spokesman Jim Margolin confirmed the raid, but would not answer questions. A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said some of the records sought by federal agents include documents related to Provident Bank Park and the local development corporation that runs the controversial, $38 million baseball stadium that is home to the Boulders.

Shortly before 11 p.m., a swarm of agents carted out two dollies stacked with a number of brown cardboard boxes full of documents as well as computer hard drives. Ramapo's finance director, Melissa Reimer, walked out of town hall a few minutes after 10 p.m. -- more than six hours after the FBI arrived -- and told reporters she had no comment.

A short time later, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Filor left the building, referring all questions to the press office. Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence left "some time" before midnight, town attorney Michael Klein said. St. Lawrence's town-issued black Chevrolet Suburban remained parked in its supervisor-designated spot right outside his office after midnight early Thursday morning.

"Some of us never actually believed that this day would come," said Legis. Joe Meyers (D-Suffern), who spoke to reporters outside town hall as the raid unfolded. He said he and others have been in regular contact with FBI agents about alleged corruption in Ramapo's local government.

"Where it leads, whether it's the stadium, or whether it's other things that the FBI was given information about, is anybody's guess at this point, but I think the stadium is certainly a possibility," Meyers said.

Klein refused to say what departments records were taken from. The records seized dated back two or three years, he said.

"The FBI wanted to review a limited category of records. We provided them everything they asked for. They refused to discuss the nature of the investigation. They didn't interview anyone. They didn't (say) if anyone was the target of any investigation and that's as much as we know."

EMPLOYEE: 'VERY CHAOTIC'

When federal agents descended on the municipal building they ordered most employees to leave. They told the remaining workers they were looking for documents, but did not elaborate. Several agents were carrying large cardboard boxes and suitcases into the building.

Local police were helping the FBI at the scene, and the parking lot around town hall was filled with marked patrol cruisers and unmarked cars belonging to federal agents.

"It was very chaotic," said an employee who did not want to be named. "They told everyone to step away from their computers, so that's what we did."

Four Ramapo police officers were guarding rear entrances to the building, and the front doors were locked. Some employees trickled out a few minutes before 5 p.m., but would not answer questions.

The blinds to St. Lawrence's office were closed tight for hours after the raid began. Through other windows, FBI agents could be seen walking the corridors.

Town records were seized through the raids rather than subpoenaed because of fears that the documents and computer drives would be destroyed if federal authorities issued subpoenas, a law enforcement source told Newsday.

Investigators were looking at "a wide array of documents" that could include phone records, email records, and files in electronic and paper form, another source said.

"They didn't identify the purpose of the investigation," Klein said. "They didn't identify what they were looking into. They simply wanted to review records. Again, they didn't interview anybody, it was purely a record gathering evening."

'HOPING FOR JUSTICE'

Since the April 2 arrests of the six political figures, residents in Ramapo have told Newsday that FBI agents have been sitting at their kitchen tables interviewing them for insight into the town's politics.

"We are hoping for justice finally in the Town of Ramapo and we're looking forward to seeing what evidence is out there," said Peggy Hatton, an activist who has spoken out against St. Lawrence's policies.

In the unrelated corruption probe, Jasmin and Spring Valley Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret have been charged with taking cash bribes in exchange for approving a land deal to help members of the conspiracy funnel payoffs for Smith to run for New York City mayor on the Republican ticket.

St. Lawrence hung up when a reporter called him Wednesday after the raid began.

Herb Haddad, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, declined to confirm or deny an investigation involving Ramapo Town Hall.

Mike Castellucio, an activist with Preserve Ramapo who has been critical of village officials, said he has spoken with FBI agents and shared information, but didn't know what they were looking for in Wednesday's sweep.

"The only thing they didn't do is walk them out with cuffs," he said of municipal officials. "I've been waiting for this for 10 years. Maybe there is a God."

With Meghan Murphy
 

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