Tearful Annabi gets 6 years, Jereis 4 in bribery case
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In an emotionally charged courtroom, former Yonkers City Council member Sandy Annabi was sentenced to six years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than a million dollars in restitution and forfeiture Monday for taking about $200,000 in bribes to sell her votes on two developments, including the controversial Ridge Hill project.
Annabi's cousin, Zehy Jereis, the former chief of the city's Republican Party and the one convicted of paying the bribes, was sentenced to four years behind bars by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan.
Before sentencing, a tearful Annabi said she came to refer to Jereis as her "sugar daddy" and acknowledged missteps in her political career.
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"I accepted help without question and I often buried my head in the sand," she said, crying as the white piece of paper on which she'd composed her thoughts shook in her hands. A packed, hushed courtroom crowd leaned forward as one to hear her sob-muffled words.
Before the 2-hour, 15-minute hearing began, Annabi's mother, Mae, was escorted from the courtroom by her daughter -- dressed in a black pinstripe business suit -- and another relative when she broke down in tears.
Referring to Jereis, a sobbing Annabi said, "I was starving for ... affection ... and someone to give me guidance."
She referred to her parents -- her father recently learned he has cancer.
"I accept any punishment that you want to impose on me," she cried. "I just wish I could spare them the pain."
Her voice trailed off.
"I can't finish," she said and sat down.
An unnerved Jereis declined to speak on his own behalf immediately after.
At their trial, Jereis, 40, had maintained that he had lavished gifts and money on Annabi in an attempt to romance her. But McMahon said she, like the jury, didn't accept that story and scolded Annabi for making herself vulnerable.
"You made yourself corruptible and when the opportunity arose, you were corrupted," the judge said.
In sentencing the pair, McMahon spoke of a "five-year Don Corleone conspiracy," a reference to a situation in the "Godfather" movies in which a favor is granted in return for an undefined future payback.
From 2002 to 2006, Jereis provided money and gifts to Annabi, but she did not provide any political favors.
McMahon called that part of the conviction "a very close call" and Annabi's lawyer, Edward Sapone, seized on those comments, saying he was going to appeal the verdict.
"That's why I'm going to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals tomorrow," he said as he entered a garage next to the courthouse.
Annabi and Jereis were ordered to surrender March 4 to begin serving their sentences. Annabi most likely will serve her time at Danbury Federal Prison, a women's institution in Connecticut. McMahon recommended that Jereis be sent to a prison near his family in Westchester County.
When she is freed, Annabi will walk out of prison shackled to a mountain of debt.
McMahon ordered Annabi to repay more than $13,884 of her 2006 City Council salary for the four months during which she flopped her vote at Jereis' request.
She also was ordered to forfeit $1,060,800 -- including her Rumsey Road condominium. She will owe $164,460.68 to PNC Bank for lying on her mortgage applications. McMahon ordered her to pay $33,000 to the U.S. government -- the cost of prosecuting the tax charges. And she will owe the City of Yonkers $64,071 -- the amount of legal fees the city incurred during the federal investigation.
Annabi and Jereis also were ordered to jointly pay $209,500, the amount she received in bribes from Jereis and developers.
She then broke down and said she was concerned for her father, who was suffering a third bout with cancer. She tore up her written statement and sat down.
Sitting in the courtroom, Annabi's father asked to address the judge. "Your honor. Your honor, may I say a few words?"
Before he could speak, Sapone rushed to his side and whispered in his ear, prompting him to sit down. "I understand," McMahon said to Annabi's father.
The courtroom was filled with family and friends, most of whom were crying or nervously shaking in anticipation of the penalty.
Before leaving the courthouse with her mother and father, Annabi smiled and hugged relatives and supporters.
"I'm good," she said. "I'm fine."
Jereis and Annabi were convicted in March of conspiring to sell her vote on two development projects -- including the controversial $600 million Ridge Hill project, on which Annabi cast the deciding vote after Jereis secured a $60,000 consulting contract from the developer.
Sapone had asked that Annabi be spared prison time and sentenced to five years' probation -- including one year of home confinement.
Prosecutors Perry Carbone and Jason P.W. Halperin said in a presentencing memorandum that Annabi's crimes were particularly heinous because in her position as a lawmaker she was "trusted and elected to act" in the public interest.
Jereis' lawyer, Anthony Siano, cited the tax evasion case of former Yonkers Republican state Sen. and power broker Nicholas Spano -- Jereis' mentor. He noted that Spano was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
Jereis, he said, deserved a sentence at or below the 10- to 16-months level -- with up to half of that satisfied by community confinement. Siano also asked that Jereis be allowed to remain free pending an appeal.
McMahon acknowledged Annabi had a tough life, growing up in Yonkers' notoriously hardscrabble Nodine Hill, watching her parents hauled away on drug charges when she was a teenager.
"There is no exception to corruption for hard-knock life," McMahon said. "A public official can never, never be obligated to anyone except your constituents and your conscience."