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Journal News Articles Serapher Halevi

Journal News Articles Serapher Halevi

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Published by Samuel L. Rivers

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Published by: Samuel L. Rivers on Mar 10, 2011
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01/03/2014

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Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights RevervedMOUNT VERNON - A political committee run by city Democratic Party chairwoman Serapher Conn-Halevi paid her and her daughter $20,000 last year, campaign financial disclosure records show.The money accounts for nearly 60 percent of all the cash spent by Conn-Halevi's committee, theChairwoman's Trust, since July 2006 - while only 3 percent went to political campaigns or charitablecauses, the records show.In addition, Conn-Halevi and two of her children last year earned nearly $150,000 from various publicsources, including her $5,000-a-month Mount Vernon parking violations contract and jobs her childrenheld with Mount Vernon and Westchester County.That does not include the fees that Conn-Halevi collected for evicting tenants in her capacity as MountVernon city marshal.Conn-Halevi declined to answer questions and said she would have her lawyer reply. She refused toidentify the attorney, who never contacted the newspaper.According to the state Board of Elections, committees such as the Chairwoman's Trust are legal, as longas the spending is tied to Conn-Halevi's role as party chairwoman.But government watchdogs say they are simply unregulated loopholes in state election law."This kind of nepotism always raises questions," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common CauseNew York. "And paying yourself is not really what campaign funds are contributed for."The Chairwoman's Trust wasn't the only political committee paying Conn-Halevi and her daughter,Naomi Halevi, who is also the committee's treasurer.Westchester County Board of Elections records show that the two women collected an additional $10,984from the Mount Vernon Democratic Committee, which Conn-Halevi chairs.Since July 2006, the two committees paid $17,000 to Conn-Halevi's nephew, Erik Conn, or his graphicarts company. That company, eTech Live, received another $4,700 in work from the campaign of formerMount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis, a close political ally of Conn-Halevi.Conn, who designed the party's Web site and produced campaign fliers and brochures, said he would liketo think he was hired for his ability, not his relationship to his aunt."It took me a long time to show the politicians, even Serapher, that I did good work," he said.Naomi Halevi declined to comment when reached on Friday.She is a city employee who left a job in the recreation department last year to become a purchasing agentin the Department of Management Services.She is listed as the owner of the spacious California Road home where Conn-Halevi is registered to vote -county and city records show that she bought the home in 2001 for $375,000.
 
In 2006, the house was damaged by fire. A city work permit for renovations was signed in August byRalph Tedesco, the Mount Vernon building commissioner and treasurer of the city Democraticcommittee.Last month, Conn-Halevi hosted a fundraiser at the home for state Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a MountVernon Democrat.Conn-Halevi's son, Nahshon Halevi, also worked at City Hall, in the Planning Department.He later spent 18 months as an eligibility examiner for the Westchester County Department of SocialServices, a job he was forced to leave in December due to civil service restrictions.He now works at Four Seasons Real Estate in Mount Vernon and is listed as the owner of Front PageRealty. The company was based at Conn-Halevi's city marshal's office on West Prospect Avenue asrecently as last month.A moving company, Right Move Inc., is also listed at the city marshal's office, with Conn-Halevi's niecenamed as principal.Party postConn-Halevi was a legislative aide to state Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, and took over the city party in 2004.She replaced former party chief Reginald LaFayette, who is now chairman of the Westchester CountyDemocratic party and the Democratic commissioner of the county Board of Elections.LaFayette founded his own political committee, The Chairman's Circle, while he was Mount VernonDemocratic chairman.The Journal News revealed in a Feb. 24 report that LaFayette uses the committee to pay for meals,gasoline and a $560-a-month lease for a Lincoln Aviator SUV - expenses he said are tied to his post.Records show that Conn-Halevi's committee raised most of its funds from annual fundraisers. Last year,the event at Lake Isle Country Club in Eastchester drew 340 and raised more than $30,000.In all, the committee paid $35,220 since July 2006. Of that, Lake Isle Caterers were paid $11,800 and$950 went for decorations and a disc jockey.But most of the committee's money went to Conn-Halevi:- $5,000 for wages and office literature on June 29, 2007.- $1,000 for "favors/giveaways" on April 16, 2007.- $5,000 identified as "other, wages, office supplies" in an undated entry on the January 2008 financialdisclosure report.- $5,000 in wages in an undated entry on the January 2008 report.
 
Naomi Halevi is paid $4,000 in wages in another undated entry in the January report.The disclosures were obtained by The Journal News through a Freedom of Information Law requestsubmitted to the Westchester County Board of Elections.The reports turned over to the newspaper last month are time-stamped to indicate that they were filed ashort time after each filing deadline in July and in January.But the January entries are not dated, and the two most recent reports are not posted on the state electionsWeb site, as is the norm.Conn-Halevi ran unsuccessfully last year for county legislator. She had a campaign committee for thatrace, Friends of Serapher, which listed no payments to her, her daughter or her nephew among the $2,100she claimed to have spent.'Boot' contractOutside the political realm, Conn-Halevi is director of the New Beginnings Educational Institute, a MountVernon preschool she co-founded under the name Bereshith Cultural Institute.A decade ago, she became Westchester's first female city marshal. In that role, she carries out court-ordered evictions of tenants who are delinquent on their rents.She is not paid by the city or the court system, but receives a fee from landlords for each eviction, usuallytotaling $45.In October 2000, she was also given a one-year, $60,000 city contract to "boot" scofflaws' vehicles.The contract was never extended, but she continues to do the work on a month-to-month basis, for a feeof $5,000 a month.The booting program has been highly successful since a second scofflaw computer was purchased andConn-Halevi was hired to boot vehicles, according to city parking violations records.Between 1991 and 2000, the booting program resulted in an average of $38,845 collected in unpaidparking fines per year.Since then, the average has jumped to $456,277 annually - with Conn-Halevi responsible for an annualaverage of $217,395 and the police for $238,882.Still, Mount Vernon City Council members last month began questioning why an independent contractorshould be paid to do the booting if city employees are also involved.Reach Jorge Fitz-Gibbon at jfitzgib@lohud.com or 914-694-5016.

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