Sunday, November 26, 2017

Bloomingburg developer Lamm’s legal team seeks leniency in his sentencing next week 

Shalom Lamm’s lawyers say the developer is an honorable man led astray into election fraud by “a perfect storm” of bad legal advice plus an atmosphere of anti-Semitic animus toward his townhouse project in Bloomingburg.

“In making such an argument, Lamm ignores that, in Bloomingburg, he made the weather,” federal prosecutors wrote in a pre-sentencing memorandum filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Lamm, 58, will be sentenced on Dec. 7 for election fraud.

He pleaded guilty to recruiting and paying people from the Hasidic community to register to vote in Bloomingburg without actually living there.

Prosecutors say he spearheaded the filing of those fraudulent registrations with the Board of Elections and the staging of vacant apartments to create the appearance of habitation.

“He and his co-conspirators attempted to rig an election. They did so because a fair election, reflecting the will of the majority of voters in Bloomingburg, would have resulted in democratic victory for candidates whom they opposed. Consequently, Lamm and his co-conspirators would have been less likely to make money selling real estate,” prosecutors wrote. “Lamm and his co-conspirators made a choice: to steal the election by lying and stealing.”

Assistant U.S. attorneys Benjamin Allee and Kathryn Martin have asked Judge Vincent Briccetti to sentence Lamm to between 12-18 months in prison, the range set by the federal sentencing guidelines, plus a year of supervised release, community service and the maximum fine under the guidelines of $30,000.

Lamm’s co-defendant, Kenneth Nakdimen, was sentenced in September to six months of imprisonment and a year of supervised release. Lamm, prosecutors say, led the scheme.

Lamm’s lawyers, Larry Krantz, Wendy Gertman Powell and Marjorie Berman of Krantz & Berman LLP and and Gordon Mehler of Mehler Law PLLC, argued that home confinement with a significant community-service component would be an appropriate and adequate sentence for him.

“It is fair to say that the offense of conviction would never have taken place here but for the coalescence of two critical factors: ugly anti-Hasidic animus and irresponsible professional advice. While not excusing or justifying the offense, these factors do make the case unique, and result in a significant mitigation of Mr. Lamm’s level of culpability,” Krantz and Mehler wrote. “He has been demonized. Of course, he will be forever marked as a convicted felon...This is a brutal and gaping wound for Mr. Lamm.”

Martin and Allee wrote in their memorandum that Lamm’s strategy included a “nuclear option” of broadly smearing opponents as anti-Semitic.

“The government does not dispute that certain members of the community who opposed the development expressed anti-Semitism and anti-Hasidism. The instances of hateful, bigoted statements and conduct by people opposed to Lamm’s real estate project are despicable,” prosecutors wrote, but Lamm knew that involved “a minority” of opponents. Abhorrent conduct by others does not excuse Lamm’s behavior, prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors quoted letters to the court from Bloomingburg residents expressing the damage they’ve suffered because of Lamm’s actions, from his fraud and deception to his charges of anti-Semitism.

The letter-writers talk about losing faith in the electoral system, about being called “self-hating Jews,” about losing their sense of security, about being threatened and verbally abused.

Lamms’ lawyers argued that prosecutors have overstated and oversimplified Lamm’s conduct and relied upon highly contested claims.

They argued that Lamm’s original Chestnut Ridge plan, begun in earnest in 2006, was indeed for 400-plus homes around a nine-hole golf course.

But because of environmental concerns over wetlands on the property, and the economic downturn of 2007-2008, that plan became unworkable.

It was then that Lamm turned to the plan for 396 units on 198 acres, with no golf course, the lawyers wrote. While conceived as a “phase one,” any plans beyond that were and remain “theoretical only.”

Local approvals came through a “multi-year, highly public process,” involving local, state and federal agencies and the developers’ agreement to build a $5 million wastewater treatment facility for the village, Lamm’s lawyers argued.

To date, developers have completed 106 units at Chestnut Ridge, of which about 50 have sold, the defense lawyers wrote.

They denied that Lamm operated in secrecy, saying developers provided the village with draft floor plans for units that included two stoves and two sinks.

The developers had no obligation to disclose some Chestnut Ridge buyers might be Hasidic, “any more than they would have been required to disclose that Christians, Muslims, African Americans or any other resident might move there,” the lawyers wrote.

When news of possible Hasidic buyers emerged in 2012, the reaction was “immediate and strong,” and clearly anti-Hasidic, the lawyers contend, citing public meeting comments.

In 2013-2014, the lawyers wrote, the vitriol intensified. They cited social media posts calling Hasidim “dirty,” “parasites,” “like cockroaches,” and a post saying “the residents of Bloomingburg will, unfortunately, yearn for a Final Solution. How horrible...the only solution is a preemptive tactical nuke.”

Prosecutors countered by quoting a January 2013 confidential summary that Lamm circulated, describing how he had worked for seven years “in complete secrecy” for a “transformative development” to eventually accommodate thousands of Hasidic families in and around Bloomingburg. Phase I, Chestnut Ridge, would provide enough residents to control village government, giving them the power to approve further development.

By 2014, prosecutors wrote, Lamm was so desperate to get enough votes that he paid a Rockland County rabbi about $30,000 per month to recruit rabbinical college students to register to vote in and move to Bloomingburg.

Lamm’s scheme led to 150 new voter registrations, most of them fraudulent, prosecutors said.

The defense’s 67-page sentencing memorandum argues that the good Lamm has done in his life overshadows the seriousness of his offense.

He has been married for 34 years, is father to five, and has a lifetime of good works to his credit, the lawyers wrote.

Lamm, his lawyers said, has for 40 years been a part of his community’s Hevra Kadisha, a group of people who prepare the dead for burial. Years ago, while in Lviv, Ukraine for his oldest son’s bar mitzvah, he met a young boy with a rare, potentially lethal congenital heart defect, and undertook complicated arrangements to get the boy life-saving surgery.

He has for decades helped young people come to the U.S. from Ukraine for college and provided financial support and advice, references and mentorship that helped them succeed. Many of them wrote letters of support. Lamm co-founded the Upper West Side Chapter of Hatzolah Medical Rescue Squad.

The prosecutor said the government does not dispute Lamm’s good deeds and charitable work, but that does not counterbalance leading a criminal conspiracy aimed at the electoral process.

“Lamm has shown himself capable of great kindness, and it is apparent to the Government that in many respects he is a very good and decent man,” prosecutors wrote. “Lamm did not extend his decency and respect to the people of Bloomingburg...Lamm’s conduct, and his treatment of the people of Bloomingburg who are the victims of his crime, is completely reprehensible.”


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