(Update of original article published Thursday morning)
BY KATHY KAHN
Despite cronyism and the continuous caustic criticism of Christopher St. Lawrence’s long and “storied” tenure as town of Ramapo supervisor, today’s arrest is likely the last time his name will appear on a voting ballot.
Yesterday morning, April 14, St. Lawrence was led out of his house in Suffern wearing the most appropriate “jewelry” U.S. Attorney Preet Barhara, the FBI, Rockland’s District Attorney and investigators from the Securities & Exchange Commission could find: a pair of handcuffs.
St. Lawrence, whose questionable tenure as leader of Rockland’s largest and most controversial town was arrested on federal charges of wire and securities fraud, as well as conspiracy, the aftermath of a three-year investigation which stemmed from the building of a minor league ballpark.
Despite a referendum held in 2010, in which 70 percent of the town’s residents voted against financing Provident Bank Park, St. Lawrence and cronies formed an LDC (local development company) to allocate funds from other municipal revenue streams and to sell bonds to investors to build the ball park, circumventing the public’s rejection for a project that has proven to be a financial disaster for taxpayers and ultimately, for St. Lawrence and his hacks.
Along with St. Lawrence, former assistant town attorney and executive director of its questionable RLDC, N. Aaron Troodler is being extradited from Pennsylvania to join St. Lawrence in front of the bar. Michael Klein, former assistant town attorney and executive director of the LDC formed by St. Lawrence, as well as Deputy Finance Director Nathan Oberman, were also handed civil charges from the SEC in connection with the federal corruption indictment.
In a meeting with the media in downtown Manhattan, Bahara and other investigators, both federal, state and local, condemned the abuse of power and misuse of public funds for personal projects. “We brought these charges because, whether you are a publicly listed company or lead a town, you are not allowed to ‘cook the books.’ If you do, and you issue securities to people who rely on those false books, you have committed federal securities fraud, and that is what we allege today against St. Lawrence and Troodler. To our knowledge, this is the first criminal securities fraud case brought against city officials for accounting fraud in connection with the sale of municipal bonds, but I suspect it will not be the last.”
Deputy Supervisor Patrick Withers issued a statement in response to the arrests. He said, “This morning’s arrests of officials and others in the Town of Ramapo has cast a dark cloud over our town. While the criminal charges filed against these individuals are not a surprise, coming as they are on the heels of a multi-year federal investigation, the nature and extent of the charges are shocking.
“Every public official has a sacred responsibility to conduct themselves well within the confines of our laws. The charges unveiled today shake the foundation of that principle and the faith of the people of Ramapo. While I believe in the presumption of innocence for all until their guilt is proven, I know that what is right for the Town of Ramapo requires that difficult decisions must be made in the coming days.
“As deputy supervisor for the Town of Ramapo, I will continue to act in the best interests of all our residents, and I am working to ensure that our government remains fully functional. While the individuals involved wind their way through the legal process, it is my responsibility to ensure that the business of government continues.”
The Ramapo GOP’s public statement read, “As were most of you, we were shocked this morning to hear of the arrest of Ramapo Democratic Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence. Corruption in Ramapo Government has long been a rumor. Today, the rumor became reality. We hope that this will serve as a wake-up call to all of the other politicians in Ramapo and remind them that they were elected to serve the public’s best interest instead of their own. Furthermore, we hope that this will bring a new era of honest and efficient government to once again make Ramapo a place that people are proud to call home.”
County Executive Ed Day said, “Elected officials are entrusted with the public’s money. When they squander it or use it inappropriately, trust in government is damaged. If these allegations are true, this is a very sad day in Ramapo and all of Rockland.”
To read St. Lawrence’s complete indictment here: