BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Federal district court justice Cathy Seibel sentenced former Town of Ramapo supervisor, Christopher St. Lawrence, to 30 months in federal prison and a $75,000 fine Wednesday afternoon for bond fraud in connection with the financing of Ramapo’s controversial baseball stadium.
A jury found that in addition to lying to taxpayers about his intentions to build the stadium with private monies after voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum on a bond, St. Lawrence also misrepresented town finances to the bond market, committing many felonies in the process.
The judge said the prosecution could not establish how much St. Lawrence’s misdeeds cost bond buyers or taxpayers, which she said harmed their case in seeking a more severe punishment of 14 years in jail.
A petition to the Court was submitted from 1,299 Ramapo residents asking the judge to remember that St. Lawrence’s financial misdeeds cost them untold millions in unwanted expenses on the ballpark-an attraction that continues to lose money-as well as millions in higher payments on town debt due to town bond ratings taking a plunge.
St. Lawrence is not required to report to prison until March 15, 2018, but can check in earlier if he wants to start ticking off the hour to freedom. His lawyer has also promised an appeal of the charges.
St. Lawrence asked to be placed in the Federal Correctional Facility on 2 Mile Drive in Otisville, New York, the closest federal prison to Rockland County. New York Magazine described the prison, quoting Aleph Institute’s prison outreach director, Rabbi Menachem Katz, as, “kind of unofficially designated it to meet the needs of Orthodox Jews.”
If and when St. Lawrence would qualify for early release for good behavior is not immediately apparent. After his stint in federal jail, St. Lawrence will serve three years probation.
Reaction to St. Lawrence’s sentencing came quickly.
County Executive Ed Day said, “Former Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence was sentenced today to two and half years in federal prison, three years of supervised release and a $75,000 fine. While some may disagree with the severity of the punishment handed down to this disgraced former public official, we must respect the findings of our legal system.
“As an elected official, I seek to honor the trust that the public has placed in me in every decision that I make. I never lose sight of the fact that the money spent by government at every level belongs to the taxpayers. I cannot imagine an elected official doing anything less. When an elected official is convicted of fraud involving funds that belong to the taxpayer, there must be consequences.
“The fraud perpetuated by former Supervisor St. Lawrence was not a ‘victimless’ crime. There are many victims, both in the Town of Ramapo, in Rockland County and beyond. As a county, we can only hope that the sentence handed down in federal court today closes a sad chapter in Ramapo, the largest town in Rockland.
“As county executive I support every effort to restore integrity to Ramapo.”
Bill Weber, who ran for St. Lawrence’s old seat this year and lost to former St. Lawrence administration lawyer Michael Specht, said, “Today’s sentencing of former Ramapo Supervisor St. Lawrence to 30 months in prison and a $75,000 fine might seem light to many, but shows that white collar municipal crimes are now being taken seriously in this country. Even though this sad chapter in Ramapo history is now closed, we the taxpayers of Ramapo will have to endure the financial burden that he has left behind for years to come. I once again implore the incoming administration, led by Mr. Specht, to close the other sad chapter by terminating St. Lawrence’s other accomplices, Michael Klein and Nathan Oberman, since they helped him carry out this financial scheme.”
Many Ramapoans and Rocklanders posting on the Rockland County Times Facebook page were incensed that St. Lawrence did not receive a worse sentence and fine. Thirty months is nothing to sneeze at, however, and for the first time since the legal ordeal began St. Lawrence expressed remorse, lamenting that he had disgraced a position that was bestowed on him largely due to the good will his father had built in local government.