Editorial: Sandy Annabi's sentence sends reminder to public servants

Former Yonkers City Council member Sandy Annabi leaves Former Yonkers City Council member Sandy Annabi leaves federal court after her sentencing in Manhattan. (Nov. 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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New Yorkers can add a few more names to a dubious list of disgraced leaders who are paying a big price for violating the public's trust.

A federal judge on Monday sentenced former Yonkers City Council member Sandy Annabi to six years in federal prison, and Zehy Jereis, the former head of the city's Republican Party and consultant to a developer, to four years behind bars.

These low-rung Yonkers power brokers are justly paying for their sins with jail time and steep fines.

The sentencing came after Annabi, a Democrat, was found guilty of accepting about $200,000 in bribes from Jereis in exchange for selling her votes on two development projects in the city. They included a high-end shopping mall off the New York State Thruway known as Ridge Hill, where Annabi was the deciding vote, and another project that went nowhere. Both defendants were found guilty of bribery and extortion. Annabi was also convicted of tax and mortgage fraud for lying about her income on a bank application.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan sentenced Annabi to pay more than a $1 million in restitution, including nearly $14,000 of her 2006 City Council salary, $33,000 to the federal government for the cost of prosecuting the case, and $64,000 in legal fees to the City of Yonkers, according to reports by Newsday.com. She also must forfeit her Rumsey Road condominium. Jereis will have to pay nearly $78,000 for his crimes.

Fortunately, the judge and jury didn't buy a silly defense in which Jereis, a 40-year-old married man with children and a distant cousin to Annabi, claimed he gave Annabi, 42, all sorts of gifts because he was infatuated with her.

Instead, McMahon aptly cited their "Faustian bargain," and said Annabi made herself "corruptible" by accepting gifts -- including money for her student loans, a down payment for a Mercedes-Benz, a nearly $4,000 Rolex and first-class airfare.

When Annabi and Jereis report to federal prison in March, they're following the shameful path of other corrupt leaders. They include former state Sens. Nick Spano (R-Yonkers), Vincent Leibell (R-Patterson), Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), and Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), who all used their power and influence for personal gain.

Changing a political culture with so much ingrained corruption isn't easy, but tougher campaign finance, ethics and disclosure rules would help root out some wrongdoing.

But even those commonsense solutions aren't foolproof, and may not have prevented this Yonkers episode.

Public office isn't about getting rich. It's not about gaming a system for trinkets, baubles or fancy cars.

It's about serving the public -- and knowing right from wrong. The judge's sentence in this case should act as another unfortunate reminder.

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