Westchester is replete with energy, talent, ambition, and money — and that sometimes-deadly combination is all you need to produce some major-league vice, venality, and really bad judgment. For better or worse, here is a sampling of major missteps and eggy faces our county has seen during 20 years of publishing Westchester Magazine.
Full disclosure: We love Martha Stewart. In fact, our teams have worked together on multiple occasions. Imagine our chagrin, then, when we learned in 2004 that our own domestic demigod was relocating in October from her swanky Katonah crib to a Club Fed in Alderson, W.Va. (totally rocking the seasonally appropriate orange jumpsuit, btw) for five months as she served out her sentence for illegal insider trading. The case stemmed from her 2001 sale of nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems stock, which plummeted 16% the following day. The Securities and Exchange Commission proved its case that Martha had received material, nonpublic info from her Merrill Lynch broker that allowed her to avoid a $45K loss. Fortunately, you can’t keep a good woman down, so today, Ms. Martha is more popular than ever, worth around two-thirds of a billion, hanging with her homey Snoop Dogg, and being just about the sexiest 79-year-old you’ve ever seen.
It’s a good thing.
One might have fairly thought that when the College of New Rochelle installed a financial whiz as its new president in 2011 that the then-107-year-old Catholic institution would sail smoothly into a solid financial future. But that was something CPA and former KPMG star accountant Judith Huntington never delivered. Instead, right under her nose, CNR controller Keith Borge sank the school into debt to the tune of $20.4 million by not paying CNR employees’ payroll and other taxes to the feds and state from the third quarter of 2014 to the second quarter of 2016. Not only that, according to U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, Borge cooked the books to conceal the college’s financial condition, by inflating assets and understating liabilities, then made available to the college’s bondholders fraudulent financial reports.
In a sentencing memo and a letter to U.S. District Judge Vincent Briccetti, Borge claimed that while he did play a role in CNR’s downfall, both Huntington and the board of trustees knew about the unpaid taxes and bills. He would later recant those assertions, instead admitting that he was solely responsible and that he had lied to Huntington, the board, and others. For his trouble, Borge was sentenced in August 2019 to three years in federal prison for failure to pay payroll taxes and securities fraud.
In September of 2019, CNR declared bankruptcy and closed permanently. The 115-year-old college campus was sold at auction to the Freemasons for $32 million.
Former Republican Party Chairman Jehy Zereis said for the record that he fell in love with then-Yonkers Councilwoman Sandy Annabi in 2001, the first time he saw her in a “summer blue dress.” Eleven years and a $200,000 courtship later, each was out of a job and facing a stretch in the big house.
To hear Zereis tell it, it was love that motivated him to help Annabi purchase homes, a co-op, lease a Mercedes, cover her school loans, and pay her utility and cable bills. Was it also love that that caused him to remit $195,000 in secret payments to her over the course of years? Federal prosecutors uttered a resounding “No,” alleging instead that the payments were made to Annabi in return for her dropping her opposition to a proposed housing complex and luxury mall known as Ridge Hill, which she did.
On March 29, 2012, following a six-week trial and five days of deliberation in Federal District Court, the jury found Annabi and Zereis guilty on all counts, a decision that famed former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called “a victory for the citizens of Yonkers.” She received a six-year sentence; he got four years.
In related news, the $842 million Ridge Hill lives on and represents a citadel of Westchester retail.
He was supposed to be the knight in shining armor, riding into town fresh off his victory as a Mount Vernon city councilman and regional director (at age 25) for New York State governor David Paterson, ready to slay the dragons of corruption that have plagued Mount Vernon for decades. To be fair, Richard Thomas’ background was stellar: Attractive and charismatic, he got a full ride to NYU, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and an MBA, doing stints at both the London School of Economics and Harvard Kennedy School. He was married to an assistant district attorney with whom he had two adorable kids.
Indeed, armed with the mandate of a 71% electoral landslide, Mount Vernon’s youngest-ever mayor said he was going to do some swamp-draining of his own — and he appeared to be doing just that, up to and including firing his police commissioner. But if you believe New York State Attorneys General Eric Schneiderman and Letitia James, Thomas overlooked one corrupt public servant during his crusade: himself. After more than a year of legal and political wrangling, amid an inexorable chorus of full-throated denials, Thomas was indicted and ultimately pleaded guilty, in July 2019, to charges of attempted grand larceny for stealing campaign funds and lying about those funds. Thomas was forced to resign his mayoralty on September 30, 2019 and was fined $13,000, with a one-year conditional discharge.