In an outburst of emotion in print and on the radio, Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis on Thursday slammed the media for "lynching" him and federal authorities for "demonizing" him as he publicly tries to combat a federal probe into his finances.
"When you are a black man ... this is nothing. There is no black leader that has not gone through all types of stuff," he told William O'Shaughnessy of New Rochelle radio station WVOX during an interview Thursday.
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The U.S. attorney's office, as well as the FBI and IRS Criminal Division, are investigating how the 74-year-old mayor came to own more than $1 million worth of residential properties in four states and whether he reported all of the rental income to the IRS.
"I consider [the U.S. attorney's office] evil people ... They want to give the illusion that somehow this fat-cat politician has amassed this money and he's bought these buildings with dirty money," he said. "Nobody can tell you that I ever stole anything from them."
The funds, he argued, are legitimate, and he insisted that he has lost money on many of those properties. One tenant, he said, owes him $31,000 in back rent. "What I had to do is take my money and pay the taxes, pay the heat," he said.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment, but a federal law enforcement source shrugged off any attempt by Davis to cast the investigation in racial terms.
"Black and white, everyone has to pay their taxes. The only color this is about is green," the source said, referring to money.
'AN ATTEMPT AT LYNCHING'
In an op-ed letter sent to Newsday on Thursday, Davis railed against media coverage of the investigation.
"It matters not who gets hurt or who is placed in harm's way. What matters most is crafting negative perception of my virtue," he lamented in the two-page letter. "My supporters and a growing number of people suspect this is more of an attempt at lynching by press."
During Thursday's 32-minute radio interview, Davis' voice cracked and trembled when he discussed a speech that he gave at an event honoring him several years ago.
"I have been very privileged in my life," Davis said, dissolving into tears. "But things happen, and I owe people, not the politicians."
Still distraught, he continued: "What is resentful is that you have so many evil people in high places ... Even when you show them the truth they're not interested in the truth."
Authorities also are probing three nonprofit funds set up by Davis, including a Disaster Relief Fund he started in 2006 the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Category 3 behemoth that left 1,833 people dead after roaring through the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Law enforcement sources, however, told Newsday that the properties and not the funds are central to the investigation.
FEDS QUESTION EMPLOYEES
Still, two Mount Vernon employees who have been subpoenaed in the probe of the funds met with prosecutors at the federal courthouse in White Plains Thursday, sources said. Dulce Lima, who works for the Mount Vernon Fire Department, and Ruby Lohse, who is employed by the Human Resources Department, were secretaries for the Relief Fund. They apparently were questioned by officials but have not appeared before a grand jury.
"There's no reason for [Lima and Lohse] to have to be over there," Davis told Newsday, referring to the U.S. attorney's office.
Lima and Lohse could not be reached for comment. Co-workers said both had taken personal time off Thursday.
The Disaster Relief Fund and one other nonprofit are listed on Davis' 2012 Financial Disclosure Forms, which were filed in Mount Vernon City Hall on Dec. 13, nearly seven months after they were due. Davis lists 10 properties that he owns in four states in those documents.
The forms include two homes Davis owns in Charlotte, North Carolina that did not show up in property record searches earlier this week. One property is listed as a house at 2100 Edison St. and the other is listed as a home at 2325 Edison St.
The value of the nonprofit funds and the amount of rental income he received from the properties, however, was redacted from the forms obtained by Newsday under the state's Freedom of Information Law.
Davis protested that he was being singled out for investigation while other elected officials in Westchester County escape scrutiny.
"Sensible people ponder the likelihood of other politicians in our county being raked through the coals as I have been," he wrote in the letter. "Being treated as I and those in my company have been speaks volumes as to the lengths the press and others will go to silence the outspoken and to mar one's reputation."
The inquiry is being led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone, who most recently prosecuted the Yonkers public corruption case in which three political figures -- none of them African-American -- were convicted in a bribery scheme. Former Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi was convicted along with ex-Yonkers GOP boss Zehy Jereis and politically connected lawyer Anthony Mangone of conspiring to sell her council vote on development projects in the city.
Davis has parlayed the race card in the past, notably during a protracted legal battle with neighboring Pelham over the Sanford Boulevard project, where he openly accused opponents of the big-box retail complex of racism. He later admitted that he was just using that as a tactic.
Nevertheless, on Thursday Davis complained that investigators are attempting to "demonize" him. "I've worked for every penny that I have, so I don't need to steal people's money," the mayor said.
With Christian Wade