Moses Stern, developer in Spring Valley probe, owed Rockland Judge Sherri Eisenpress' firm $500G
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Rockland County Family Court Judge Sherri Eisenpress' law firm racked up $500,000 in legal bills representing Moses "Mark" Stern, the key witness in a sprawling federal corruption probe that led to Monday's arrests of Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin, Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret and four others, Newsday has learned.
In 2010, Eisenpress, 50, pleaded with a Manhattan federal bankruptcy court judge to ensure that her Madison Avenue firm would recoup the money it was owed for representing Stern in a legal battle with Citigroup over $126 million.
"RE [Reiss Eisenpress] and the unsecured creditors will be harmed if this process moves forward on this unusually fast track without full disclosure," Eisenpress warned the judge.
Nearly two years later, in April 2012, Eisenpress' firm, formerly known as Reiss Eisenpress, was awarded a fraction of what it said it was owed -- $55,832, court records show.
Despite their money battles, political sources said, Stern joined forces with Eisenpress during her first run for elected office in 2011, when she won a seat on the Rockland County Family Court bench.
Stern, 40, helped Eisenpress raise about $125,000 -- nearly four times more than the combined amount raised by her two opponents -- by drumming up support for her in Rockland County's Orthodox Jewish community, according to one political source familiar with the campaign.
Stern got more than a dozen people to give thousands of dollars each to Eisenpress' judicial campaign, the source said.
Thirteen people gave at least $3,000 apiece to Eisenpress' campaign, New York State Board of Elections records show. Esther and Joseph Markowitz and two companies they own at their Sunset Drive address in Monsey gave $20,000 to Eisenpress, records show.
"It's obvious [the Markowitzes] don't have $100,000," the source said. "It's a joke. These aren't rich people who donated to Eisenpress, either. One of them is 60 years old, and he lives with his son; no way he gives $4,000 as a donation."
Schneiderman's spokesman said the attorney general will donate to charity any contributions the Markowitzes made to his 2010 political campaign.
"In light of reports that Mr. and Mrs. Markowitz are involved in an ongoing law enforcement investigation, out of an abundance of caution, the campaign will donate the full amount of their contributions to charities helping New Yorkers recovering from Hurricane Sandy," said the spokesman, Damien LaVera.
The political source also recalled that Eisenpress was ushered to events at political clubs by Jasmin, who helped Eisenpress win the support of the Haitian community for the $125,600-a-year seat on the bench.
Last year, Eisenpress presided over the trial of four boys accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl and her 12-year-old sister in their Ramapo home. The judge sentenced each of the boys to 18 months in juvenile facilities upstate.
A WEB OF ALLEGED CORRUPTION
Stern took his company, First Republic Realty Group, into bankruptcy in 2009 after Citigroup claimed he defaulted on $126 million in loans it gave the company to purchase 11 shopping malls in the Southeast.
Eisenpress' practice was one in a lengthy list of law firms that did legal work for Stern's companies but didn't get paid. The bankruptcy court awarded $118,000 to Hoffinger Stern & Ross and $40,000 to Stevens & Lee, court records show.
Eisenpress did not return phone calls left with a court official and her court clerk Thursday.
On Monday, federal prosecutors charged Jasmin, 49, and Desmaret, 55, with mail fraud for allegedly rigging a 2012 vote by the village's board of trustees in favor of the developer they wanted to see build a community center on village land. What Jasmin and Desmaret did not know was that the "developer" was actually an undercover FBI agent.
Fellow board members also were not told that Jasmin had a hidden financial stake in the company the board chose to develop the property, federal prosecutors contend.
Jasmin and Desmaret have denied the charges against them. They each face up to 20 years behind bars if convicted.
Stern, who pleaded guilty to unspecified federal charges March 11, was aiding the FBI in its investigation of Jasmin and Desmaret, sources say.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith is accused of working with Republican City Councilman Daniel Halloran in a plot to pay off the Republican county chairmen of Queens and the Bronx to secure their backing of Smith. Smith also is accused of arranging to have cash bribes of $40,000 paid to Queens GOP vice chairman Vincent Tabone and Bronx GOP chairman Jay Savino.
STERN'S SHADY DEALINGS TRIGGERED FED PROBE
The investigation began as a probe of Stern's alleged role in a mortgage fraud case in Rockland County two years ago, sources said.
After a few months of digging through records, Rockland County officials alerted the FBI when they learned that Stern's companies owed Citibank $126 million, the source said. "It just grew and grew and grew."
In an effort to reduce his prison sentence, Stern agreed to cooperate with federal investigators and volunteered information about lawmakers involved in, or receptive to, questionable dealings.
"It was all about Stern," said another source familiar with the probe. "After [the feds] had Stern dead to rights, he offered to cooperate to save himself. But he's still going to do substantial time. The truth of the matter is, all the people arrested know who it was because they dealt with him. He was the person who made the introductions."