RAMAPO, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A suburban New York town supervisor has been arrested in connection with the financing of Ramapo’s baseball stadium.
FBI agents arrested Christopher St. Lawrence, 65, on Thursday. Aaron Troodler, 42, former executive director of the Ramapo Local Development Corporation, was also arrested.
St. Lawrence is accused of inflating town assets to obtain the $25 million in municipal bonds used to build Provident Bank Park in 2012 when the town was actually in the red, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
“As today’s indictment alleges, Christopher St. Lawrence and Aaron Troodler kicked truth and transparency to the curb, selling over $150 million dollars in municipal bond funds on fabricated financials,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
St. Lawrence, of Wesley Hills, also was Ramapo Local Development Corporation chairman. Investigators were looking into the movement of money between that agency and town accounts. They also wanted to know whether the LDC, which oversaw the stadium project, generated money and repaid the town.
In 2012, how the stadium would be paid for came under question when auditors suggested that taxpayers could be liable to pay up to $60 million in expenses on the ballpark.
Auditors found it would take more than $25 million in bond payments over the next five years when the stadium was only expected to make $7 million in revenue. At the time, St. Lawrence defended the local development corporation in charge of paying for the project, saying it was working well within the law.
“The building of the ballpark, the $25 million bond, is not paid for and has not been paid for by any taxpayer dollars at all,” he told WCBS 880 at the time. “The operations of the local development corp. will pay off the bonding for the stadium and it will not be any taxpayer dollars.”
According to the indictment, St. Lawrence and Troodler allegedly inflated the size of the town’s 2010 general fund by $3.6 million in 2011, when the RLDC issued $25 million in bonds in order to secure funds needed to construct the ballpark. St. Lawrence and Troodler then falsely told investors the bonds were being paid for with stadium revenue and revenue from the RLDC’s condominium business, officials said.
Voters said no to financing the minor league ballpark in Pomona, but St. Lawrence pushed ahead with the development corporation to get the project done, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.
“Seventy percent of the town’s voters rejected the stadium in a referendum in 2011 to guarantee long-term bonds to pay for its construction,” Bharara said.
St. Lawrence also allegedly inflated the general fund by another $3.08 million from 2010 through 2015 in connection to a property sale agreement by the RLDC with the town that was never accomplished. After the failed sale, St. Lawrence allegedly tied the money to another property sale, then kept the money in the general fund by repeatedly having an attorney tell auditors that the money would be paid back in a year’s time, according to officials.
St. Lawrence is also accused of inflating the general fund by transferring money out of the town’s Ambulance Fund and by inflating the amount of money the town received in Federal Emergency Management Agency aid to help with Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene, officials said.
Both Troodler and St. Lawrence are facing charges of federal securities fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy charges in connection with municipal bonds, the Journal News reported.
Deputy Supervisor Patrick Withers says the arrest isn’t surprising given a 2013 raid where authorities seized town documents and computer hard drives.
“This morning’s arrests of officials and others in the Town of Ramapo has cast a dark cloud over our town,” Withers said in a statement.
“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,” she added.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day suspects St. Lawrence’s arrest is just the tip of the iceberg.
“That breaks a trust with the people. I mean no matter how much we may like the stadium, many people in this county and specifically in Ramapo, will not go near the stadium because of the process that led up to it being built,” Day said. “And it’s a shame, it really is, it’s a very sad thing, but it goes to the issue of public trust and why it’s important that elected officials be honest, transparent and direct with their constituents.”
It was not clear if anyone personally profited from the scheme, and the feds could not say why Supervisor St. Lawrence was so determined to build the ballpark that he allegedly cooked the books.
But Michael Castellucio of PreserveRamapo.com had a theory.
“It’s his ego,” he said. “Also, he operates beyond the law in more areas than just this.”
Castellucio believes the town is broke and worries about what happens next.
He said the worst case scenario involves “taxes that become so extreme that you can’t retire in a place like this.”
Castellucio is calling on St. Lawrence to resign, but does not expect him to do so.
The town attorney didn’t immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment.
Provident Bank Park is home to the Rockland Boulders.
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