WASHINGTON – Former Ramapo, N.Y. town supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence is arguing he deserves to either be acquitted or retried because of errors in the criminal trial that resulted in a jury finding him guilty of 20 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud in connection with municipal bonds the town and its development corporation issued.
The verdict against St. Lawrence, which was released last month, was the first conviction for securities fraud in connection with municipal bonds, according to Joon Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Each of the 11 counts of wire fraud and eight counts of securities fraud carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison while the single count of conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
But St. Lawrence, through his lawyer, is arguing that instead of sentencing him, Judge Cathy Seibel, who sits on the U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, should either set aside the guilty verdict or grant a new trial on each of the 20counts. St. Lawrence bases his argument on what he says were at least 19 types of errors that were made during the course of his case.
Some of the alleged missteps, like the court denying several of St. Lawrence’s motions or excluding admissible evidence, were listed without giving specific examples. St. Lawrence’s lawyer could not be reached to clarify what specifically led to the claims.
Others were more specific, like the court deciding to answer a jury question about the conspiracy count and denying St. Lawrence’s motions for an acquittal, a continuance, and a mistrial during the course of the proceedings.
St. Lawrence is also arguing that the court erred in admitting various witnesses’ testimonies over his objections, allowing testimony on his conduct that did not relate to the Department of Justice’s indictment in the case, and giving improper instructions to the jury. He is additionally saying that he was “substantially prejudiced and deprived of a fair trial” for a number of reasons, including the Justice Department's suppressing evidence that could have put him in a more favorable light.
The former town supervisor will file a brief in support of the motion by July 11 and is keeping the right to add examples to support his case if he feels they are warranted, his lawyer told the court.
The DOJ’s indictment of St. Lawrence, which led to the criminal case against him, largely mirrors a still-pending civil case the Securities and Exchange Commission filed against him and others associated with Ramapo at the time of the indictment. Aaron Troodler, a former official with the Ramapo Local Development Corp. that issued two of the 16 bonds associated with the alleged fraud, was also indicted but pleaded guilty to criminal securities fraud in March.
The DOJ found that Troodler and St. Lawrence lied to investors in the town’s and RLDC’s bonds, some of which were used to finance a minor league baseball stadium, in order to conceal the deteriorating state of Ramapo’s finances and the inability of the RLDC to make scheduled payments of principal and interest to holders of its bonds from its own money.
Much of the fraudulent activity was allegedly designed to conceal the town’s deteriorating general fund, Ramapo’s primary operating fund that faced deficits ranging between $250,000 and $14 million between the town’s fiscal years 2009 and 2014, according to the DOJ. As of August 2015, the town had more than $128 million in outstanding bonds that had been issued for various municipal purposes while the RLDC, which is owned by the town, had issued $25 million in bonds to pay for the minor league baseball stadium, according to U.S. attorneys.
The fraud preceded the construction of the baseball stadium, but the $58 million total cost of the stadium played a role in the town’s financial problem, U.S. attorneys said. They found that Ramapo paid more than half the cost, even though the town’s citizens rejected paying for the stadium through bonds in a 2010 referendum and St. Lawrence publicly stated that no public money would be used.
Much of the cover-up involved keeping fake receivables on the town’s books that kept the general fund from showing a negative balance, according to the DOJ.
Additionally, St. Lawrence made more than $12 million in transfers from Ramapo’s ambulance fund to the general fund from 2009 to 2014. The two funds had different tax bases and such transfers should only have been made as loans, according to the indictment.