BY JOEL GROSSBARTH
The trial of Ramapo Supervisor Christopher P. St. Lawrence is nearing the end. On Monday, defense lawyer Michael Burke informed United States District Court Judge Cathy Seibel that the defense would not be calling any witnesses, including Supervisor St. Lawrence, after the prosecution rested. Closing arguments took placeon Tuesday and Wednesday.
After taking the first two weeks of the trial trying to demonstrate how Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence convinced people to “cook the books” to fraudulently induce lenders to finance the town’s baseball stadium, the United States Government’s lead attorney showed the jury the actual trail of money they claimed was used build the stadium.
As its last witnesses, the government called a document manager from Sterling Bank, successor to Provident Bank, to show that the Town of Ramapo and the Ramapo Land Development Corporation applied for a loan of $8.4 million dollars to be used for the housing development known as Ramapo Commons.
Rather, the government alleged that St. Lawrence and the Land Development Corporation funneled the money to pay for the escalating costs associated with the stadium and not for the housing development. Defense attorney Michael Burke led the witness to testify that accountants and lawyers also signed the applications.
The government also called a FEMA official that testified the town, through St. Lawrence, applied for over $1.5 million in aid after Hurricane Sandy. The government claims this money was also used to pay stadium-related debts. However, under cross-examination, the FEMA official acknowledged that all the work the town applied for was actually performed.
The trial has proven to be as bizarre as expected. St. Lawrence’s co-defendant Aaron Troodler, who pled guilty to the same charges prior to trial, testified on behalf of the government, as did whistleblower Melissa Reimer. During the course of trial, the prosecution called longtime Town Attorney Michael Klein.
After invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, Klein was ultimately given immunity from criminal prosecution and was compelled to answer the government’s questions. The limited immunity given by Judge Seibel does not protect Klein in his upcoming civil trial where he and the town’s deputy finance official face allegations of concealing outstanding liabilities relating to the baseball stadium. A finding of liability could cost Klein his job as well as his law license.
During closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutor James McMahon reminded jurors of a tape recording in which St. Lawrence chuckled and said, “We’re going to have to all be magicians to reach some of those numbers.”
McMahon told the jury they were “witness to St. Lawrence’s lies.”
Defense attorney Michael Burke countered in his closing argument, “There is no fraud here. There is no conspiracy. He built something he thought would benefit the community. All the bonds have been paid for and everyone has been fully reimbursed.”
Burke attempted to turn the tables on the prosecution, claiming the government’s whistleblower, Town of Ramapo Finance Supervisor Melissa Reimer, was the one responsible for some of the bookkeeping irregularities the prosecution blamed on St. Lawrence.
Following closing arguments the judge instructed the jury what their deliberations should consider. Since this is the first case to be criminally tried under the securities fraud statutes, jury instructions are critical. If convicted, St. Lawrence faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Dylan Skriloff contributed to this report