Three of the developers allegedly given breaks on permit fees by Anthony Mallia, Ramapo’s building inspector, were major donors to the campaign committees of Mallia’s boss, town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence.
Mallia was indicted last week on charges that he bilked the town of $150,000 by falsifying records so that he could reduce the permit fees on 39 projects from late 2014 through 2015.
He also allegedly overcharged the Moleston Fire District in Ramapo by tens of thousands of dollars on its permit fees for the new Hillcrest fire station. Mallia has been suspended since his arrest in the case in October.
Prosecutors have not publicly identified the projects which they accused Mallia of aiding.
But the indictment included building permit numbers, which The Journal News/lohud.com crossed checked against records obtained from the town through Freedom of Information requests to determine which projects were referred to in the indictment.
Twelve properties were part of the Viola Estates development across from Ramapo High School that is the subject of a civil lawsuit by neighbors. They contend that illegal accessory apartments were included for each of the two-family townhouses in the project – and that Mallia had turned a blind eye to their inclusion.
The developer, Shimmy Galandauer, built a $200,000 extension on Mallia’s Airmont home, according to village records, and contributed $18,000 to the supervisor’s committees, Friends of Christopher St. Lawrence and Leadership That’s Working.
The principal of Viola Gardens LLC, Ephraim Grossman, also contributed $1,000 to St. Lawrence.
Four of the permits – two for 56 Suzanne Drive and those for 34 and 36 Old Nyack Turnpike – were for homes built by corporations linked to Berish Feldman, a resident of 6 Ruzhin Road in Kiryas Joel.
One of the companies, Ruzhin Corp., donated $15,000 to St. Lawrence between July 2014 and September 2015.
Another permit that was allegedly under-charged was for 31 Decatur, whose developer, Berel Karniol, is linked to more than two dozen new multi-family buildings in Monsey in recent years. Karniol contributed $19,000 to St. Lawrence’s committees between September 2014 and November 2015.
n nearly three quarters of the projects that Mallia allegedly gave breaks, the owners were assisted by Construction Expediting.
The Monsey firm, run by Mayer Jacobowitz, submits building applications and appears before town boards and committees They are hired not just by novice property owners, who are unfamiliar with the building process, but also by seasoned developers who don’t want to get bogged down by the process.
While The Journal News was working on a recent special project on development in Ramapo , Jacobowitz never responded to phone calls left at his office.
Last week, following Mallia’s indictment, a woman who answered the phone at Construction Expediting hung up when a reporter identified himself.
A message left on Jacobowitz’s answering machine was not returned.
None of the property owners or developers have been charged with any wrongdoing.
Ever since Mallia was arrested, District Attorney Thomas Zugibe has said there was no evidence that the building inspector personally profited from the scheme. That has raised questions about Mallia’s motivation for helping developers if he was getting nothing in return.
Michael Castellucio, of the group Preserve Ramapo, suggested the permit breaks were a result of Mallia’s ties to St. Lawrence and the supervisor’s dependence on the Orthodox Jewish bloc vote.
“We think he was put in that position to maybe help leverage Chris’s connection with the bloc with these kinds of favors,” Castellucio said. “You don’t know if he personally benefited but that addition to his house by one of the biggest donors to St Lawrence’s campaign and recipients of permit breaks extended to Galandauer makes that relationship very suspicious.”
The indictment laid bare the subjective way permit fees were assessed in Ramapo, a process the Town Board altered in December.
Building permit fees are based on the cost of construction. Applicants would submit the estimated cost, which would be reviewed by a plan examiner who recommended the actual cost.
The town had a table of fees corresponding to every $1,000 of construction cost – for example, a $100,000 job called for a fee of $991. An $800,000 project would incur a fee of $7, 291.
Town policy called for a fee based on a construction cost of $100 per square foot.
Mallia is accused of either changing the cost figure determined by the plan examiner or using his own calculation to arrive at a figure.
Each building in Viola Estates was charged a permit fee of $3,241 based on a construction cost of $350,000. But records show that each building had a square footage of more than 5,500 – which would have made the construction cost at least $550,000 with a fee of at least $5,041. That would have saved the developer more than $21,000.
The only permit from 2014 included in the indictment was for a new United Talmudical Academy school building at South Madison Avenue and Old Nyack Turnpike
The size of the building was believed to be five times that of the new Hillcrest firehouse. But while the fire district was assessed a fee based on a $9.9 million construction cost – the school’s cost was listed at only $5 million.
An administrator of United Talmudical Academy, Yiedel Spitzer, was also the owner of 86 Decatur Avenue, where a multi-family house is under construction. That building permit fee – based on a construction cost of $500,000 – was also lower than it should have been, prosecutors allege. Spitzer did not return a phone message.
One commercial project was cited in the indictment, an office building at the corner of Second Street and Route 306.
The building permit for 3 Second Street listed a construction cost of $1 million. But according to Rockland County records, the building loan taken out by the owner, Main Building 1 LLC, said it was for a 24,000-square foot building. That should have translated into a $2.4 million construction cost.
A principal of Main Building 1, Devorah Feldman, did not return a phone message.
The residence with the largest construction cost cited in the indictment, $1.3 million, was 8 Ash St., owned by RYMSSG Holding. On a dead-end block with stately homes, only the foundation remains from work that began nearly two years ago.
The application was obtained by the construction company, Prestige Builders, whose principal Yehuda Weissmandl, is president of the East Ramapo Board of Education. Weissmandl declined to speak about the project or about the DA’s contention that the project got a break from Mallia.
Three other properties included in the indictment, 21 Weiner Drive and 4 and 6 Gibbs Court, abut each other.
They are owned by a pair of companies with links to hedge-fund financier Murray Huberfeld, who was indicted on federal fraud charges last year.
Huberfeld allegedly paid $60,000 to the president of the New York City correction officers union for his investment of $20 million in union pension funds with Platinum Partners, where Huberfeld was an executive.
One of the real estate companies, Vail Properties, is registered at Huberfeld’s address in Nassau County.
The other, Lawrence-Monsey Properties is registered at the Manhattan address of Platinum Partners. Several Platinum executives were also indicted last year on federal fraud charges.
The attached townhouse on Gibbs Court is larger than 25,000 square feet, suggesting a construction cost of more than $2 million. But a pair of permits issued by the town cited a construction cost of $1.68 million.
The applications were submitted by Chestnut Century Corp. A man who answered the company phone Friday morning wished a reporter an enjoyable weekend before asking him not to call back.
By Jonathan Bandler/Steve Lieberman – lohud.com