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by city Democratic Party chairwoman Serapher ConnHalevi 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, the Chairwoman's Trust, since July 2006 - while only 3 percent went to political campaigns or charitable causes, the records show. In addition, Conn-Halevi and two of her children last year earned nearly $150,000 from various public sources, including her $5,000-a-month Mount Vernon parking violations contract and jobs her children held with Mount Vernon and Westchester County. That does not include the fees that Conn-Halevi collected for evicting tenants in her capacity as Mount Vernon city marshal. Conn-Halevi declined to answer questions and said she would have her lawyer reply. She refused to identify the attorney, who never contacted the newspaper. According to the state Board of Elections, committees such as the Chairwoman's Trust are legal, as long as 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 Cause New 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 $10,984 from 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 graphic arts company. That company, eTech Live, received another $4,700 in work from the campaign of former Mount 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 like to 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 agent in 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 by Ralph Tedesco, the Mount Vernon building commissioner and treasurer of the city Democratic committee. Last month, Conn-Halevi hosted a fundraiser at the home for state Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Mount Vernon 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 Social Services, 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 Page Realty. The company was based at Conn-Halevi's city marshal's office on West Prospect Avenue as recently as last month. A moving company, Right Move Inc., is also listed at the city marshal's office, with Conn-Halevi's niece named as principal. Party post Conn-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 County Democratic 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 Vernon Democratic 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 financial disclosure 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 request submitted 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 a short 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 elections Web site, as is the norm. Conn-Halevi ran unsuccessfully last year for county legislator. She had a campaign committee for that race, Friends of Serapher, which listed no payments to her, her daughter or her nephew among the $2,100 she claimed to have spent. 'Boot' contract Outside the political realm, Conn-Halevi is director of the New Beginnings Educational Institute, a Mount Vernon 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 courtordered 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, usually totaling $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 fee of $5,000 a month. The booting program has been highly successful since a second scofflaw computer was purchased and Conn-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 unpaid parking fines per year. Since then, the average has jumped to $456,277 annually - with Conn-Halevi responsible for an annual average of $217,395 and the police for $238,882. Still, Mount Vernon City Council members last month began questioning why an independent contractor should be paid to do the booting if city employees are also involved. Reach Jorge Fitz-Gibbon at email@example.com or 914-694-5016.
Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved MOUNT VERNON - The daughter of the city's Democratic chairwoman received thousands of dollars in federal rent subsidies, despite owning the spacious $375,000 home that her mother lives in. According to records obtained by The Journal News, Naomi Halevi, 31, lived in a subsidized twobedroom apartment at 55 Sheridan Ave., receiving monthly federal Section 8 housing allowances reserved for low-income residents who cannot otherwise afford a place to live. Halevi has been listed as the owner of the house at 10 California Road where her mother, Serapher ConnHalevi, has lived since her daughter bought it in 2001, according to county and city records. During that time, she has taken out at least four mortgages on the property while her salary for jobs at City Hall ranged from $27,000 to a current figure of $51,000. Whether she qualified for Section 8 based on her income alone is unclear. But a Westchester County official said that ownership of a $375,000 home would likely have meant disqualification. Halevi has refused to answer questions. Approached at City Hall last week, she told a reporter to "look at my income" when asked how she could qualify for the subsidies while owning the home. She refused to say whether she ever reported the home to Section 8 authorities. Mount Vernon's Section 8 program was administered by the city Urban Renewal Agency until 2006, when Westchester County took it over after an audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed that the agency overbilled Section 8 by $1.7 million. Norma Drummond, deputy commissioner of the Westchester County Planning Department, said the agency was prohibited from discussing - or confirming - specific clients in the Section 8 housing assistance program. She said that Section 8 recipients are not prohibited from owning a home, but that it is rare, and assets and any income from the property would be considered in determining continued eligibility. But given a similar hypothetical scenario, she said it would be unlikely that the purchase of a $375,000 home would allow a recipient to remain in the program. "Section 8 would never be able to approve the monthly mortgage payments to be able to afford the debt payment on this house," Drummond said. "So Section 8 would never sign off on a housing purchase like this." However, it could not be determined if Naomi Halevi received the subsidies as a single person, as a mother with children, or with another income-earning adult. Under the eligibility guidelines for the program, another income would impact the subsidy amount. It was also unclear when Naomi Halevi first qualified. The salary she earned in the recreation department before she owned the home was low enough for her to get Section 8 subsidies.
By 2005, her $34,924 salary was above the $32,700 upper limit for an individual to qualify for Section 8. It is unclear whether she earned additional income from the New Beginnings Educational Institute, a Mount Vernon child-care agency that her mother founded and oversees. A city youth directory in 2005 identified Naomi Halevi as project director. Her brother, Nahshon Halevi, worked as a loan manager for the city's Urban Renewal Agency. After Westchester County took over the Section 8 program, he was hired by the county and worked in rental assistance and as a Section 8 eligibility examiner. He left at the end of last year after 18 months because he failed to pass required Civil Service exams. It could not be determined if he played any role in his sister getting a Section 8 voucher. Records also show that the mother of Nahshon Halevi's children lives in another Section 8 subsidized apartment on North Seventh Avenue. Among those listed at the apartment are three children with the surname Halevi. The records, dated Aug. 21 of last year, show that the woman, 33-year-old Shoshana Woodbine, receives $827 in monthly housing assistance payments to supplement the $1,500 rent. The name Woodbine-Halevi is on one of the mailboxes at the house. But Woodbine is registered to vote at the 10 California Road house owned by Naomi Halevi and occupied by Conn-Halevi. Conn-Halevi refused to comment. Woodbine and Nahshon Halevi have not returned numerous calls seeking comment. Naomi Halevi had registered to vote at the Sheridan Avenue address in 2000, but both she and Nahshon Halevi are now registered at the California Road house, as are three brothers and their mother, according to state voter registration records. For more than two years before Halevi bought the house, her family rented the home after Conn-Halevi, the city marshal, evicted the prior tenant. Aziz Magoma, the previous owner's son, handled the sale. He said that after Conn-Halevi did the eviction, "we got to talking, so on and so forth, and she ended up renting the place." The house recently underwent extensive renovation following an April 26, 2006, fire caused by faulty wiring. The Journal News reported last month that the renovations to the home were approved by Mount Vernon Buildings Commissioner Ralph Tedesco without the required approval of the city's Architectural Review Board. Tedesco also serves as treasurer of the city Democratic Party, which Conn-Halevi chairs. Two sets of documents obtained by The Journal News show that Naomi Halevi was living at 55 Sheridan Ave. and was a recipient of federal Section 8 rental subsidies as recently as 2005.
In one, a supporting document in the HUD audit, she is listed as one of four Section 8 tenants whose case was not properly recertified by the city in 2004 and 2005 - one of several flaws that federal auditors found. A second document lists Naomi Halevi among six tenants of the Sheridan Avenue building receiving a rental subsidy, and shows her receiving a $603 monthly allowance for apartment C-1. That document is undated, but lists a Rye company, Main LLC, as the building's owner. That suggests a time period before October 2003, when Main LLC sold the building. Neighbors said Halevi moved in after 1999 and lived there as recently as last year. It is unclear whether Halevi still received Section 8 benefits last year, when her City Hall salary increased to over $51,000 with a new job in the management-services department. Adam Glantz, a spokesman for HUD, said Section 8 vouchers are awarded based on income, with residents who earn between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area's median income qualifying for monthly rental assistance allowances. The percentage of the median income needed to qualify for the subsidies changes periodically and is based on U.S. census data. Reach Jorge Fitz-Gibbon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-694-5016
Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved MOUNT VERNON - Federal investigators are seeking records of rent subsidies received by the daughter of city Democratic Party Chairwoman Serapher Conn-Halevi, The Journal News has learned. The newspaper revealed Monday that Naomi Halevi, 31, received thousands of dollars in federal rent subsidies despite owning the $375,000 California Road home where her mother lives. The next day, an inspector with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asked for records pertaining to Halevi from the Mount Vernon Urban Renewal Agency, city officials said. The exact nature of the request was not known, nor could it be determined what records, if any, were turned over. "We received a request by the HUD Office of Inspector General for additional documents this week, which we complied with immediately," said Yolanda Robinson, Mayor Clinton Young's chief of staff. "The City of Mount Vernon will continue to cooperate fully and expeditiously with the federal investigation." The FBI has been investigating the Urban Renewal Agency for more than a year. In March, its former executive director, Constance "Gerrie" Post, and entrepreneur Wayne Charles were indicted on fraud and conspiracy charges related to contracts and loans that Post allegedly steered to Charles and his companies. The investigation came after a HUD audit in 2006 found that the agency had overbilled the federal Section 8 program by $1.7 million. The audit prompted Westchester County to take over administration of the city's Section 8 program. It is unclear when Halevi qualified for subsidies under the Section 8 program. She moved into a twobedroom apartment at 55 Sheridan Ave. in 1999, and records obtained by The Journal News show that she received rent subsidies there at least in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Meanwhile, she is listed as the owner of a spacious home at 10 California Road, which her mother rented for at least two years before Naomi Halevi bought it in 2001. She has worked at Mount Vernon City Hall for the past 11 years, first in the Recreation Department and most recently as purchasing agent in the Department of Management Services. Halevi has repeatedly refused to answer questions posed by reporters, including about payments she received as treasurer of her mother's political committee. Asked about her participation in the Section 8 program, she would only say, "Look at my income." She refused to say if she told Section 8 administrators that she owned a home. Neither Naomi Halevi nor her mother could be reached for comment yesterday. Reach Jonathan Bandler at email@example.com or 914-694-3520
Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved MOUNT VERNON - Serapher Conn-Halevi has stepped down as chairwoman of the Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee. The embattled party leader did not attend last night's committee meeting, but her letter of resignation was read to district leaders.
"I think it's unfortunate that it came to this, but she did what she thought was right," said David Ford, a former party chairman. "While she was chair, she did a fantastic job. She moved the Democratic Party forward. That's just what a chair is supposed to do." Ford was at the meeting but declined to discuss details of the letter. Conn-Halevi could not be reached for comment. Speculation that she was on her way out as party leader intensified last month when Deveraux Cannick was appointed the party's new second vice chairman. Cannick will likely assume leadership of the party until at least September, when a permanent chairman is selected. Conn-Halevi's problems began last year after she backed Mayor Ernest Davis for re-election against Clinton Young and ran for county legislator on Davis' ticket in the party primary. Both were defeated, and Young went on to beat Davis in the general election. Although she was Democratic Party chairwoman, she remained in the race for county legislator as the Independence Party candidate. She took over the leadership of the Mount Vernon party, one of the county's most powerful Democratic machines, in 2004, succeeding county Elections Commissioner Reginald LaFayette after he became chairman of the Westchester Democratic Party. LaFayette is still first vice chairman of the Mount Vernon party but said last night that it would be Cannick who runs the committee. As chairwoman, Conn-Halevi had a political committee, the Chairwoman's Trust, that raised money for her party efforts. The Journal News reported earlier this year that the committee paid her and her daughter, who served as its treasurer, $20,000 from its modest receipts last year. While renovating her California Road home that was damaged in a 2006 fire, she was able to get a work permit from city Building Commissioner Ralph Tedesco without getting the required approval of the architectural review board, the newspaper revealed. Tedesco is also treasurer of the Democratic City Committee. Conn-Halevi, 52, is a lifelong Mount Vernon resident who is involved in several municipal and civic endeavors. She serves as city marshal, a position appointed by the chief judge in which she is paid by landlords to carry out court-ordered evictions. Since 2001, she has received $60,000 a year from the city to boot cars belonging to parking scofflaws. She also has a salary as founder and chief executive officer of the New Beginnings Educational Institute, a preschool on South Fifth Avenue. In each of her jobs, she gets help from some or all of her four grown children. Her oldest son, Nahshon, a real estate broker and former city employee, is a deputy city marshal; and her daughter, Naomi, who works at City Hall, has been a program director at Conn-Halevi's school. Authorities began looking into her daughter's receipt of federal rent subsidies after The Journal News reported that she continued receiving the subsidies even though she owned the California Road home where her mother lives. She bought the house in 2001 for $375,000. Reach Jonathan Bandler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-694-3520
Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved MOUNT VERNON - A real estate company run by the son of city marshal and former Democratic boss Serapher Conn-Halevi collected $162,000 in private-vendor fees from the Westchester County Department of Social Services, including more than $15,000 while he worked for the agency. Nahshon Halevi's company, Front Page Realty, also received nearly $12,000 while he worked for the county Planning Department - an apparent violation of that office's policy - and was paid a $1,680 brokers fee to find a federally subsidized apartment for his three children and their mother. Most of the fees paid to the company beginning in 2004 came while Halevi worked for the Mount Vernon Urban Renewal Agency, where he was employed as a loan manager. The agency is the focus of an ongoing federal investigation that began after a February 2006 audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found the agency had overbilled the Section 8 housing program by $1.7 million. Halevi, 34, left the Mount Vernon job four months after the audit and took a job with the county Planning Department when it took over control of the city's troubled Section 8 housing program.
Halevi also worked for his mother as a deputy city marshal. He started Front Page Realty several years ago and ran it out of the marshal's office in the Roosevelt Square Professional Building. Until this year, Conn-Halevi also chaired the Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee. Halevi is now a salesman at Four Seasons Real Estate Center in Mount Vernon. He left the county in December after failing to score high enough on the Civil Service exam to keep the DSS job. He refused to comment during a brief telephone conversation and did not return several phone messages. Brokers fees Halevi's Front Page Realty is now listed as inactive by the New York Department of State. The company qualified as a vendor for the Department of Social Services in early 2004. The agency pays brokers fees - and first-month's rent and security deposits - for eligible Westchester residents who have to find housing in emergencies. According to DSS policy, the fee is paid once the customer makes a significant effort to find an apartment without a broker. County officials said staff members do not steer customers to particular brokers. Diane Atkins, deputy commissioner of social services, said it is the customer's responsibility to find a broker once the fee has been approved by the department. "The customer has the right to go to any broker they want," Atkins said. In 2004, Front Page Realty received $65,029 in fees for finding apartments for 45 recipients of DSS financial assistance. The following year, the fee payments totaled $59,973 for 50 apartments. In 2006 and 2007, the total amount the company received was $37,978. The information was provided in response to a state Freedom of Information Law request by The Journal News. Details that could reveal information about the customers, including locations of apartments, were redacted because of confidentiality restrictions. In all, DSS paid $4.6 million in brokers fees from 2004 through 2007. Halevi also received $2,460 earlier this year in county fees as a landlord - $760 for two months rent and $1,700 for a security deposit. The money was presumably for renting out an apartment at his two-family home on Beechwood Avenue in Mount Vernon. Halevi bought the house for $742,000 in late 2006, but defaulted on the mortgage within six months and it went into foreclosure. County jobs The newspaper obtained records that show one of the fees collected by Front Page in October 2005 was for an apartment rented by Shoshana Woodbine, the mother of Halevi's three children. She alternately uses the names Woodbine and Halevi. Atkins would not confirm that payment or answer questions about whether such a payment would be appropriate.
Halevi left Mount Vernon in June 2006 to work for the county. While working for the Department of Planning during the next nine months, DSS paid his company $11,906 in brokers fees for eight apartments. Once he joined DSS in March 2007, his company still received $15,840 in brokers fees for 11 apartments. It could not be determined from the records whether Halevi had used his work at Mount Vernon City Hall to find customers eligible for broker fees from the county. Norma Drummond, county deputy planning commissioner, said real estate brokers who get jobs in her department are told they can maintain their licenses but cannot do real estate work while working for the county. "We make it clear that anybody who has any history with real estate, when they come to our Section 8 office they're not allowed to practice their real estate," Drummond said. "So there would be a very definite conflict if he was assisting somebody at the time he was employed by us." "He can keep his license up to date and stuff like that," she said. "But our practice, our department policy, is that he cannot be practicing real estate while he's working for us." Atkins said DSS had no such policy. Family ties Atkins said that any DSS employee who is also a vendor for the county is expected to disclose that information in case there was any conflict of interest. She said Halevi had not made such a notification. "We would have liked to have known he had a company that was a vendor," she said. But she added later that because Halevi worked in child-support services at DSS, he probably would have been allowed to continue as a vendor because he would not have been in a position to solicit customers for his real estate business. Atkins, who also lives in Mount Vernon, serves as president of the city chapter of the Westchester Black Women's Political Caucus, a group whose vice president is Halevi's sister, Naomi. Atkins said that though she knew Nahshon Halevi worked in her department, she was unaware of his work as a real estate broker. "I wouldn't have known Front Page from Back Page," she said. "Our broker numbers are numbers, that's all. We would care less who the broker is as long as they're licensed and have a (vendor) number." Reach Jonathan Bandler at email@example.com or 914-694-3520
Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved MOUNT VERNON - Federal investigators are probing the city's Democratic Party, particularly its past finances and leadership, The Journal News has learned. A federal grand jury is expected to serve a subpoena on the party after dispatching an agent to Mount Vernon City Hall this week to seek out city Buildings Commissioner Ralph Tedesco, who also serves as the treasurer of the Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee. Deveraux Cannick, who was installed as party chairman in May, said yesterday that he was assured by the U.S. Attorney's Office that it would be the party's past practices and leadership that would be the subject of the probe. "It's a grand jury proceeding and they are limited in what they can tell us, because grand jury proceedings are secret," he said. "But it's a situation where, from the conversation, I'm confident that it's not the organization, but individuals," Cannick said. "Once we receive the subpoena, then I'll be in a better position to let you know the subject matter." Cannick replaced Serapher Conn-Halevi, Mount Vernon's city marshal, as party chair in May. Since taking over, Cannick said, he has moved the party's cash into a new bank account and ordered an audit report, which is pending. "I wanted to be clear now that we have put procedures in place to really address some of the concerns that the community might have had and the public might have had," Cannick said. "We're confident that the subpoena does not in any way speak to any actions by the party." Tedesco said yesterday that he was not at his office when a federal agent went looking for him there on Wednesday afternoon. He confirmed that he was later contacted at City Hall and spoke to the unnamed agent. But Tedesco referred further questions to party leaders. As Democratic Party treasurer, Tedesco is responsible for filing biannual financial disclosures with the Westchester County Board of Elections. The disclosures filed in January with the county board showed the party had a balance of only $197.13.
The latest disclosures in July show the party raised an additional $5,500 through July 11 and spent $5,308. The report was due by July 15 but was filed early. It does not include the revenue from a fundraiser July 13 at Cannick's home that honored him as the new party chairman. Between July 2005 and last July, the disclosures indicated that $10,300 was paid in cash for wages, according to a review by The Journal News. There was no further accounting of whom the money was paid to. When asked about those, Tedesco said he only filled out the report, and that the decisions to pay out cash to workers would have been made by the party chair. Conn-Halevi, the chairwoman from 2004 until she stepped down in May, did not return calls seeking comment yesterday. She was paid nearly $9,000 by the city committee between July 2005 and the end of last year. Financial disclosure reports on file with the Westchester County Board of Elections indicated that the money was for wages, yard signs, office expenses, literature and other reimbursements. Conn-Halevi's daughter, Naomi, also received over $3,300 from the committee during that same period, reportedly for wages, campaign expenses for workers and expenses from a cancer relay. The Journal News reported earlier this year that Conn-Halevi and her daughter received an additional $20,000 in wages and fees last year from The Chairwoman's Trust, a separate political committee maintained by Conn-Halevi. That accounted for 60 percent of the cash spent by the committee since July 2006. It was unknown whether that committee would also be the subject of the probe. The newspaper also reported that Tedesco, as buildings commissioner, approved renovations to ConnHalevi's fire-damaged home on California Road without required city approvals. Conn-Halevi's predecessor as party chairman was Reginald Lafayette, now the Westchester County Democratic chairman and commissioner of the county Board of Elections. He said he was unaware of the investigation and that no subpoenas have been served on the Board of Elections. He said he found it "curious" that federal authorities would probe the Mount Vernon party. "They couldn't be looking at the party. They may be looking at an individual," Lafayette said. "The party doesn't file to the federal government, only to the state." He said it was not unusual for parties to disclose only large cash payments rather than identify every campaign worker who received the money. "Sometimes its a matter of sloppy bookkeeping," he said, adding that party officials usually keep records of who was paid cash "in case they get indicted or something." The subpoena would mark the latest federal probe into Mount Vernon. An ongoing investigation of the city's troubled Urban Renewal Agency began after a 2006 audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found the city had overbilled the federal Section 8 housing program by $1.7 million. Earlier this year, former Planning Commissioner Constance "Gerrie" Post and businessman Wayne Charles, to whom Post allegedly steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in no-bid contracts, were indicted in that investigation.
In a separate case, a high-ranking supervisor in the Department of Public Works pleaded guilty to taking bribes from mob-connected trash haulers in a scheme that bilked the city out of more than $1 million. That investigation included a raid on City Hall just three weeks before Election Day, prompting supporters of ousted Mayor Ernest Davis to complain that it was politically motivated. Reach Jorge Fitz-Gibbon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-694-5016
Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved
MOUNT VERNON - A federal investigation into the city's Democratic Party and its finances is focusing on payments made to the daughter of recently ousted party chair Serapher Conn-Halevi. A grand jury subpoena served on the party this week seeks "any and all records of payments to or on behalf of Naomi Halevi" since 2002 - records current party leaders are now busy compiling. "I spoke with the agent (Wednesday) and he knows that we need a reasonable amount of time to get our response to him," said Deveraux Cannick, who replaced Conn-Halevi as the party's chair in May. "So we're hopeful to be in compliance by the middle of next week." The subpoena follows a series of articles in The Journal News focusing on Naomi Halevi and her family, including Conn-Halevi, Mount Vernon's city marshal. A review of Westchester County Board of Elections records by the newspaper found that, between July 2005 and the end of last year, Naomi Halevi received $3,355 from the Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee. The money included $350 in wages for Campaign 2005 in October 2005, $2,000 in cash for campaign expenses for workers in November 2006, $800 for cancer-relay expenses in June 2007 and $205 for office expenses in December, the records show. She received an additional $4,000 in wages from the Chairwoman's Trust, a separate political committee run by her mother. In April, The Journal News reported that Naomi Halevi had received thousands of dollars in federal Section 8 housing subsidies despite owning her mother's spacious home on California Road, which Halevi purchased for $375,000 in 2001, according to county land records. The newspaper also reported that city Buildings Commissioner Ralph Tedesco, who is also the Democratic Party's treasurer, allowed extensive renovations to the home without the required city review and approvals. Halevi could not be reached for comment yesterday, while her mother did not return calls seeking comment. Both women have repeatedly declined to speak to reporters in recent months. Federal investigators have not confirmed the new probe. It is the policy of federal law enforcement agencies to neither confirm nor deny the existence of criminal investigations. However, the subpoena orders the Democratic City Committee to deliver the records to William Martinez, a special agent with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been jointly and actively probing various city departments, and current and former officials. The scrutiny of City Hall began after a February 2006 audit by the Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that the city had overbilled the federal Section 8 program by $1.7 million. That sparked a continuing investigation into the Mount Vernon Urban Renewal Agency and prompted Westchester County to take over the program.
Earlier this year, former city Planning Commissioner Constance "Gerri" Post and businessman Wayne Charles were indicted on charges that Post steered lucrative contracts to Charles. In a separate case, a high-ranking supervisor in the Mount Vernon Department of Public Works pleaded guilty to taking bribes from mob-connected trash-hauling companies in a scheme that bilked taxpayers out of $1 million in carting fees. Cannick, the Democratic Party chair, said he is confident that the latest probe is not targeting the party and its current operations. "I would be surprised if there are any subpoenas beyond this," Cannick said. "My sense of this is that the party is neither the subject or target of this investigation. I think they're looking for very specific information." After taking over as chairman, Cannick said, he moved the party's money into a new bank account and ordered an audit "to really address some of the concerns that the community might have had and the public might have had." It was not known if The Chairwoman's Trust, Conn-Halevi's political committee, has also been subpoenaed by the grand jury. Naomi Halevi, 32, served as that committee's treasurer, and is also vice president of the Mount Vernon chapter of the Westchester Black Women's Political Caucus. She began working at City Hall for the city recreation department more than 12 years ago. In 2006, she was given the job of city purchasing agent in the management services department, taking a leave from the recreation department until she passed the Civil Service test for her new job. She did not score high enough on the test this year and returned to the recreation department job. Reach Jorge Fitz-Gibbon at email@example.com or 914-694-5016
Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved MOUNT VERNON - The city's former Democratic chairwoman's son, who has worked as a deputy city marshal, was charged with driving while intoxicated following a traffic stop early Sunday morning. City Police Commissioner David Chong said Nahshon Halevi, 34, of 10 California Road was stopped around 4:30 a.m. at a police checkpoint at Fourth Avenue and Third Street. Officers detected the odor of alcohol from Halevi's 2003 sport utility vehicle and administered a series of field sobriety tests, Chong said. Police said Halevi had a blood-alcohol content of 0.11 percent, and they charged him with misdemeanor DWI. Halevi also was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation.
Officers recovered a Walther PPK handgun for which Halevi has a license, Chong said. The weapon was secured and safeguarded, and no charges were filed with respect to it. "He was cooperative, and he didn't give the officers any trouble," Chong said. Halevi was released yesterday morning on $500 bail. His mother, city marshal Serapher Conn-Halevi, was chairwoman of the city's Democratic Committee until May. Earlier this year, The Journal News reported that Nahshon Halevi's real estate company collected $162,000 in private-vendor fees from the Westchester County Department of Social Services, including more than $15,000 while he worked for the agency. Front Page Realty also received nearly $12,000 while he worked for the county Planning Department, an apparent violation of that office's policy, and was paid a $1,680 broker's fee to find a federally subsidized apartment for his three children and their mother. Halevi is now a salesman at Four Seasons Real Estate Center in Mount Vernon. Reach Brian Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-666-6177
Copyright 2008 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved MOUNT VERNON - The son of the city's former Democratic Party chairwoman got bailed out over the holiday weekend on a drunken driving case - a benefit not afforded three others who were held on misdemeanor charges at the same time. Nahshon Halevi, 34, was released on $500 bail Monday morning by Associate City Judge Adam Seiden even though police and court staff had not yet determined whether he had a criminal record. The other three defendants in the same situation had to wait in the police holding cells until Tuesday morning to be arraigned. Halevi, a deputy city marshal, is the son of City Marshal Serapher Conn-Halevi, who headed the Democratic Party until stepping down this spring. Halevi was arrested early Sunday at a police checkpoint at Fourth Avenue and Third Street. Halevi was charged with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, after failing field sobriety tests and registering a blood-alcohol level of 0.11 percent. He also was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana, a
violation, after police said they found an envelope containing what appeared to be marijuana in his back pocket. Judges generally will not arraign defendants and set bail on misdemeanor charges if police or the court have not been able to confirm whether there are outstanding warrants through a criminal-record check. The record, or rap sheet, is obtained by computer from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services after the police forward a suspect's fingerprints. Halevi and eight others arrested Saturday and Sunday were held by police until Labor Day morning, when Seiden handled weekend arraignments. Two men charged with robbery, a felony, were arraigned and sent without bail to the county jail. Rap sheets were available for three others charged with misdemeanors, and they were arraigned. One man was held as a fugitive from a justice warrant. The three others who were not arraigned were Michael Anderson and Arkey Brown, who were charged with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration, respectively, following an incident Saturday morning; and Wayne Wright, who was charged with third-degree assault for allegedly punching and kicking a man early Sunday morning. The files for each of the four defendants without rap sheets Monday morning showed that the same documentation was provided by police on each: the misdemeanor charge and a brief narrative of the accusations. Seiden, an appointed judge who is a Democrat, explained that the difference with Halevi was that his was a traffic offense and that he used the defendant's state Department of Motor Vehicles record to justify arraigning him, said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the New York state court system. "He had no information on the others, and they did not have driving offenses," Bookstaver said. "He had enough information to comfortably arraign (Halevi) and set bail." The driving record told Seiden whether Halevi had any prior license suspensions or DWI convictions. It could not reveal whether he had a criminal record or the existence of any arrest warrants for him, some of the factors which judges rely on when setting bail. A review by The Journal News of all the court calendars for weekend or holiday arraignments this year showed just one other DWI case, on Feb. 16. Seiden released the defendant on $400 bail. A check of the file for that defendant could not determine whether Seiden had the defendant's rap sheet when he set bail. Anderson, Brown and Wright were released Tuesday morning following their arraignments. Halevi, who is a broker at Four Seasons Real Estate Center, also returned to court Tuesday morning. His driver's license was suspended, and the case was adjourned until Sept. 16. He faces up to one year in the county jail if convicted. His lawyer, Tameka Coverdale, refused to comment about his case on Friday. Both Halevi and his mother were appointed to their marshal positions by the chief judge of the City Court, Brenda Dowery-Rodriguez. The marshals carry out court-ordered evictions in the city.
The Division of Criminal Justice Services computer check would have revealed no criminal record for Halevi. He was arrested in New Rochelle in early 2005, charged with criminal mischief and harassment following a complaint by the mother of his three children. The woman, Shoshana Woodbine, was identified in court papers as Shoshana Halevi and described as his ex-wife. Later that spring, the case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. When Halevi stayed out of trouble for one year, the charges were dismissed in the summer of 2006. The Journal News has written a series of articles about Conn-Halevi and her family this year. A political fund she ran, the Chairwoman's Trust, paid her and her daughter, Naomi, $20,000 in 2007. Conn-Halevi got a permit from the city building commissioner - who also is the Democratic Party treasurer - to renovate her fire-damaged home on California Road without the necessary architectural board approval. Her daughter was getting federal rent subsidies even though county records listed her as the owner of the California Road home. And Nahshon Halevi's company, Front Page Realty, was paid $162,000 in brokers fees by the county Department of Social Services over a four-year period. That included a payment to find Woodbine and their children a federally subsidized apartment; $15,000 in fees while Nahshon Halevi worked for the DSS; and $12,000 in fees while he worked for the county Planning Department, an apparent violation of that office's policy. Reach Jonathan Bandler at email@example.com or 914-694-3520
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