County Legislator Charles Falciglia
Many of you are familiar with a previous article I wrote titled, A Blue Field Of Dreams, published in the Rockland Voice on October 22, 2017. The article detailed the real estate transactions involving several properties on Union Road in Spring Valley known as Bluefield Extension. It seems that two of the protagonists in that article have surfaced in another part of town, or the same town as the case may be, with a cameo appearance by a third member of the Bluefield triumvirate.
In Ramapo New York, believe it or not sits a lake – Lake Suzanne. It’s not Lake George but situated in Monsey the name alone conjures up images of a bucolic suburban setting. As you make your way towards the lake you are immediately struck by several observations, the first of which is a Town of Ramapo pole clock, one of seven such monuments to the economic bungling of a failed regime. A taxpayer funded gossamer attempt to disguise nothing more than political subterfuge as they previously bellowed the name of former Ramapo Supervisor and now jailbird, Chris St. Lawrence.
The clocks cost over $200,000.00.
The neighborhood is a dichotomy of what was once ranch style homes with a red brick motif, the remaining ones now interspersed with some larger homes and airplane hangar like structures, certainly out of character under the intent of general municipal law. The area was re-zoned as part of the Town of Ramapo Comprehensive Plan in 2004 to allow for higher-density housing. All in all, with extensive construction ongoing, the new buildings are fairly aesthetically pleasing despite the congestion.
At the time of the comprehensive plan revision the Rockland County Planning Board objected for a variety of reasons to the change such as impact on schools, services, drainage, water and sewer; etc. But the county planning board can easily be overridden by a super majority vote of a town or village planning board and has no authority to do anything about it.
Many of the concerns of any county planning board are left to the municipality to address, such as an aerial apparatus road (fire-escape) to the roof for a structure over a certain height. In the case of Ramapo that means it may or may not be addressed.
As the road adjacent to the lake, Suzanne Drive ends, it turns into Vincent Road.
On August 20, 2015, by deed recorded August 31, 2015, Mr. Lesser Gross of Spring Valley purchased 7 Vincent Road for $181,000.00. If the name Lesser Gross sounds familiar it is the same Lesser Gross that is currently a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Rockland County against the Town of Ramapo for bypassing the county planning board, required under general municipal law, on the project known as Bluefield Extension.
Mr. Gross was extremely active in that project, buying and selling property that is part of the project on Union Road in Spring Valley and acting as a Trustee for the Yitzchok and Shifra Trust, a trust of former Ramapo Town Councilman, former acting Supervisor and current town of Ramapo Tax Receiver, Yitzchok Ullman.
There appears to be no mortgage involved in the purchase of 7 Vincent Road, however, the deed had an unusual prohibition preventing the property from being conveyed for an amount in excess of $217,200.00 for 90 days.
Subsequently, due to some tax map changing, 7 Vincent Road is now known as 17 Vincent Road, maintaining the same tax lot number of 50.17-1-5. The property lies in unincorporated Ramapo, abutting the Village of Spring Valley and within 500 feet of the Pascack Brook.
On July 21, 2016, approximately one year later, by deed recorded August 30, 2016, Lesser Gross deeds the property for no consideration to 7 Vincent Properties, LLC. The transfer from an individual to an LLC for no consideration is hardly unusual. However, it always raises the same questions that our elected officials will not or do not want to address, such as disguising beneficial ownership of LLC’s, the source of funds and their legitimacy and the ease of shifting ownership with no transparency as the situation may dictate.
On that same July 21, 2016, 7 Vincent Properties, with an address of 9 Laura Place, Spring Valley, New York 10977, enters into a Building and Loan Agreement and mortgage with Northeast Community Bank in White Plains, New York in the amount of $1,199,500.00, with a due date of February 1, 2018. On that same day 7 Vincent Properties also enters into a mortgage with the same lender for an additional $100,000.00. The Building and Loan Agreement and mortgages are for the construction of a six unit condominium building at 17 Vincent Road.
On both the deed transferring the property to the LLC, the Building and Loan Agreement and mortgages, the signer on behalf of the LLC is not Lesser Gross, as one might expect,but another member of the LLC, the aforementioned Yitzchock Ullman. At the time, Mr. Ullman was a Ramapo Town Councilman and is presently also a co-defendant in the previously referenced Bluefield Extension suit.
Mr. Ullman did list his involvement in the project on his 2018 annual statement of financial disclosure for the 2017 tax year. In the section entitled investments, which requires the subject list all investments in excess of $5,000.00; or five percent of the value of any business, etc. He describes his investment as a minor involvement on Vincent Road, Monsey. No street number is provided.
It must be me; I have this peculiar thought process that people elected to office should not be involved with developers or construction projects that in some form or another are subject to the very jurisdiction they oversee and may require some form of approval before people they appoint and/or hire; before, during or even after the closing.
Now there is nothing illegal about this arrangement but maybe it should be and maybe it should extend to any number of other various business dealings with constituents.
One could make the argument that if this is a person’s livelihood or line of business before he or she is elected then an exception can be made, but that does not preclude all of the same ramifications outlined above. I have a better solution. How about the newly elected official divests himself prior to taking office or within a reasonable period of time afterwards?
Certainly, when it comes to an appearance of a conflict of interest, this tips the scale at the higher end. Why someone would get involved with this for a minimal return is their business, since any one of a number of problems from tax ramifications to lawsuits, like in the case of Bluefield Extension, could come back to haunt you. People often get mixed up in business deals and then become unwitting victims. Look at all the people in Rockland over the last decade that ended up in political straw-donation schemes – an apparent cast of thousands reduced to a solo act by our outgoing District Attorney.
In an interesting sub-plot to this story, it appears that a member of the Ramapo Planning Board is the President of the Bank that provided the mortgages to 7 Vincent Properties. That member was unanimously appointed at a special meeting of the Ramapo Town Board on December 31, 2015. The votes were St. Lawrence, Ullman, Friedman and Charles.
Northeast Community Bank has apparently also found a very lucrative niche in Rockland. Per Rockland County land records, since January 1, 2016 it has loaned in excess of 180 Million dollars to roughly 130 entities, almost all exclusively LLCs predominantly in Ramapo. The financing on those properties is generally a mirror image to the 7 Vincent financing. That is some serious revenue and does not take into account all the additional loans made prior to 2016.
The Building and Loan agreement and mortgage on 7 Vincent Properties was extended by a note and mortgage dated February 1, 2018, recorded May 8, 2018, as was the $100,000.00 mortgage, both with a due date of June 1, 2018. In this particular case Ullman, now a private citizen, not only signed as a member of the LLC but as a guarantor, simultaneously executing an affidavit to waive the mortgage tax fee, which is standard operating procedure as it was previously paid. The person notarizing his signature was Zishe Babad, who played a recurring role as a buyer and seller in the Bluefield Extension property sales.
In October of this year the appropriate Declaration of Condominium prospectus was filed establishing a plan of Condominium ownership. On November 27, 2018 the first unit was sold. The person notarizing the signature of Lesser Gross on the Declaration, Zishe Babad of course.
Recently, despite its campaign pledge, the Ramapo Town Board has reverted to government by St. Lawrence, giving 11th hour notice for public hearings, proposing an increase in the size of accessory apartments to 1,400 square feet, and awarding themselves obscene raises and contracts.
I will ask the same question I asked at the end of the Bluefield Extension article. Do you like and want your elected officials involved in business deals, real estate or otherwise, with constituents and appointees under their jurisdiction?
Or is it only me?