Sandy Annabi, Zehy Jereis guilty in bribe scheme

Former Yonkers city councilwoman Sandy Annabi.

Former Yonkers city councilwoman Sandy Annabi. (Credit: Handout)

Yonkers Republican Party chief Zehy Jereis bribed Democratic Councilwoman Sandy Annabi with nearly $200,000 in cash and gifts in a scheme to sell her council vote, including her decisive vote on the controversial $600 million Ridge Hill project.

A federal jury's conviction of the pair after five days of deliberation in Manhattan leaves Annabi facing up to 161 years in prison and Jereis facing up to 65 years.

Judge Colleen McMahon did not set a sentencing date for Annabi, 41, and Jereis, 40, both of whom remain free on bail.

The guilty verdicts mean federal prosecutors have secured six convictions of elected officials and political power players in the Hudson Valley in the past 16 months.

After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said federal investigators were not finished.

"These guilty verdicts are yet another clarion call to corrupt public officials and those who contemplate buying their influence," Bharara said, "that we will do everything within our power to root out, prosecute and punish this conduct."

Jereis was a one-time protege of former Republican state Sen. Nicholas Spano of Yonkers, as was Anthony Mangone, a politically connected lawyer who pleaded guilty in November 2010 to corruption and tax charges. Mangone signed a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors and testified against Annabi and Jereis.

Spano, a lobbyist, pleaded guilty Feb. 10 to a tax charge, just days before the start of the trial of Annabi and Jereis. He faces up to three years in prison.

In December 2010, former Republican state Sen. Vincent Leibell III, whose district encompassed all of Putnam County, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and tax evasion. Leibell had won election as Putnam County executive a month before his guilty plea. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Last September, Leibell's chief of staff, Raymond Maguire, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to four months in prison and four months of house arrest.

Annabi and Jereis were convicted of all charges, including conspiring on bribes to assure her vote in favor of the Ridge Hill project and a smaller project, the Longfellow School project, which never got off the ground.

The Ridge Hill development was a fiercely contested proposal to develop an 80-acre piece of land off the Sprain Brook Parkway in Yonkers. The mixed-use, commercial and residential development led to a sharp divide in the city council, with Annabi joining other council members in a civil lawsuit to stop the project.

The developer, Forest City Ratner, enlisted Michael Spano -- the brother of Nicholas Spano and now mayor of Yonkers -- and Republican lobbyist Albert Pirro Jr. in its efforts to persuade the council to pass the project.

But it was only after Jereis met with representatives of Forest City Ratner in May 2006 that Annabi changed her vote.

She announced the change in her vote in June 2006, guaranteeing it would have the five council votes it needed -- a so-called super majority -- for approval. Federal prosecutors said the release announcing her switch was prepared by Jereis and representatives of Forest City Ratner. Jereis had an agreement with the developer's representatives that he would be given a consultant job after Annabi switched her vote.

Jereis had given Annabi $174,000 in gifts and cash, including payments on student loans and money for real estate purchases beginning in 2001, prosecutors said.

In court, Jereis said he was showering her with gifts out of love, not as bribes.

But federal prosecutors dismissed that notion -- and emails between Jereis and Annabi -- as a ruse.

"The only love these two shared was a love of money," Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone said.

Lawyers for Annabi and Jereis said they plan to ask McMahon to set aside the verdict. If that fails, they plan to appeal.

"I just don't think the government proved its case," said William Aronwald, Annabi's lawyer.

The Associated Press contributed information to this report.

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