A resolute Sandy Annabi on Monday proclaimed her innocence and declared she will "hold her head up high," just minutes before she left her parents' home in Yonkers to report to a federal prison in Connecticut, where she began her 6-year sentence on public corruption charges.
"I hold my head up high because I know I am innocent," said the former Yonkers city councilwoman, who was convicted last year of selling her votes to support the $600 million Ridge Hill development and another project.
In an interview at the immaculately tended, one-story brick house on Bacon Place, Annabi said she will file an appeal on her federal corruption conviction this week and hopes to be released while it is heard.
"I still do maintain my innocence," she said. Annabi, 42, said she maintains her belief in the system. "Unfortunately, the wheels of justice turn very slowly."
Annabi's interview followed a Monday morning appearance in U.S. Court in White Plains by her former mentor and cousin, onetime Yonkers GOP boss Zehy Jereis, who pleaded guilty to new tax evasion charges hours before he reported to Lewisburg Federal Prison Camp in Pennsylvania for bribing Annabi. Jereis joined 581 nonviolent convicts at the minimum-security prison.
As the 50 percent owner of a Brooklyn car wash, gas station and convenience store, Jereis admitted he failed to withhold payroll taxes and to file Internal Revenue Service forms for his workers from 2007 to 2009.
Prosecutors Perry Carbone and Jason P.W. Halperin said Jereis, 41, faces up to 3 years in prison for the tax evasion charges, though federal sentencing guidelines call for 15-21 months. Sentencing is scheduled for June 4.
Left undecided was whether the sentence would be in addition to, or run concurrent with, the 4-year sentence on the corruption charges that Jereis begin serving Monday afternoon at Lewisburg Federal Prison in Pennsylvania.
The tax evasion scheme saved the business, Atlantic Gas and Wash, about $61,678 in payroll taxes, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Jereis' attorney could not be reached for comment Monday.
Annabi reported as scheduled to Danbury Federal Prison's camp at 2 p.m. after a federal court on Friday denied her emergency appeal to postpone the start of her sentence.
At the minimum-security federal prison in Danbury, Conn., she joined 209 other female inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes.
Annabi and Jereis were convicted March 30, 2012, by a federal jury in Manhattan on charges that Jereis bribed Annabi, a two-term Democrat, with nearly $200,000 in gifts and cash over several years to control her vote on the City Council.
Prosecutors said she changed her vote at Jereis' behest on the Ridge Hill residential and shopping complex and a smaller school redevelopment plan called the Longfellow Project.
At Jereis and Annabi's Nov. 19 sentencing, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon said she did not believe the married Jereis' story that the gifts and cash were not bribes but a bid to win Annabi's heart. Prosecutors said Jereis concocted the lovelorn story -- even creating fake romance-laced emails -- to further the deception.
At the trial, Annabi said she was innocent but "accepted help without question and often buried my head in the sand."
"The only love these two shared was a love of money," Carbone, an assistant U.S. attorney, said during the trial.
In the interview Monday, Annabi declined to answer questions about her case while it is under appeal, but she said it is possible that someday she could return to the Yonkers City Council.
"Anything is possible," she said.