At Yonkers Corruption Trial, the ‘Sugar Daddy’ Defense

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Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

She may have led on a solicitous sugar daddy, but she's no criminal.

At least that’s what the lawyer for Sandy Annabi said this week in closing arguments in the complicated corruption trial of political operative Zehy Jereis and Annabi, a former Yonkers City Council member.

There was uncontroverted evidence that Jereis, who ran Annabi's campaigns and served as a close advisor, had given her $174,000 (including a $60,000 loan, promptly repaid) over seven years. Prosecutors say the money was to keep Annabi on a string so she'd act appropriately when called upon — notably to change her vote to support Forest City Ratner's giant Ridge Hill retail/residential project. 

Jereis, a married man about the same age as Annabi, gave a different explanation. He testified that he was infatuated with her and did everything he could — including losing 150 pounds and getting his teeth fixed — to try to win her love, which also included paying maintenance on her apartment, helping her lease a white Mercedes-Benz, and taking care of her utility and cable bills. Annabi did not take the stand during the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone scoffed at the idea, saying, "Their idea of a romantic time is a double date with Forest City Ratner executives at Jake's Steakhouse [in Riverdale]. That's not romance, it's corruption." 

Annabi’s attorney, William Aronwold, contended that his client changed her vote on Ridge Hill because of Forest City's concessions. He also said there was no proof Annabi knew about the no-show job that Forest City later gave Jereis. 

"You may decide Sandy Annabi was taking unfair advantage of Zehy Jereis: She was allowing him to be a sugar daddy," Aronwald said. "You can say to yourself that was reprehensible. That's not what she's charged with. That's not a crime."

The prosecution and defense clashed over some key pieces of evidence, including a string of Jereis's e-mails professing romance that never received a response. Prosecutors said they were bogus, and an expert witness testified that something was askew in the part of Annabi's computer containing the e-mails. But that expert, Aronwald reminded the jury, could not opine on whether the e-mails were fabricated.

On Wednesday, Jereis's lawyer, Anthony Siano, slammed the prosecution's most vulnerable witness, the admitted liar and felon Anthony Mangone, who, like Jereis, had worked for then-Senator Nick Spano, a local powerbroker who recently pleaded guilty to federal tax charges. 

Mangone claimed he had been given cash destined for Jereis and Annabi from developers of a project called Longfellow. However, Siano had shown that the developers were out of the country on the day described and argued Mangone kept the money. Prosecutors called it a mistake in recollection but said other evidence of the bribe lined up.

Siano said no "corrupt understanding" between Jereis and Annabi had been proven. Of Jereis, Siano suggested, "He is not on trial for having extraordinarily poor judgment in his personal life."

In rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Halperin stressed "the concealment" by the defendants, including Annabi's failure to declare the money from Jereis on annual city disclosure forms. He pointed to 81 phone contacts between Annabi and Jereis on June 9, 2006, the day Jereis arranged for Annabi to meet with Forest City Ratner.

"Where's the spike on Valentine's Day?" Halperin asked. "How many calls on Valentine's Day? Four. Job fair day? 81."

The jury begins deliberation today.

Brooklyn journalist Norman Oder is the author of the Atlantic Yards Report blog and is working on a book about the project.