Shalom Lamm, the developer of a controversial 5,000-unit housing project marketed to chasidic Jews in upstate Bloomingburg, was arrested on a federal indictment last week alleging that he overcame municipal objections to the project by falsely registering voters who would elect public officials favorable to it.
Through his attorneys Lamm denied the charge. His was arraigned in federal court in White Plains and released on $200,000 bail by Judge Vincent Briccetti. The offense of conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The project dates back to 2006 and the indictment filed by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara names Lamm, 57, of Bloomingburg, and two associates who were charged with the same crime, Kenneth Nakdimen, 64, of Monsey, and Volvy Smilowitz, 28, of Monroe.
Bharara announced also the guilty plea of Harold Baird, a former town supervisor of Mamakating, for conspiracy to submit false voter registrations. At the time, the town had power over Bloomingburg’s planning and zoning.
In a statement, Bharara described the defendants’ alleged actions as a “cynical ploy to corrupt the electoral process in Bloomingburg. … Profit-driven corruption of democracy cannot be allowed to stand no matter who does it or where it happens.”
William Sweeney Jr., the FBI assistant director-in-charge, said the three men allegedly acted “at the expense of honest citizens who expect and deserve a fair election system. … The defendants violated federal law as they schemed to put themselves first. This type of behavior simply won’t be tolerated.”
The indictment against the three defendants alleges that although they had hoped to make “hundreds of millions of dollars,” by late 2013 the project was stymied by local municipal opposition even as construction was underway.
“Rather than seek to advance their real estate development project through legitimate means, the defendants instead decided to corrupt the electoral process in Bloomingburg by falsely registering voters and paying bribes for voters who would help elect public officials favorable to their project,” according to the indictment.
It said also that those people the defendants falsely sought to register to vote in Bloomingburg’s 2014 village election “had never intended to live in Bloomingburg,” had never kept a home there and “indeed, some people … had never even set foot in Bloomingburg in their lives.”
In furtherance of their scheme, the defendants are alleged to have created and back-dated false leases and placed “items like toothbrushes and toothpaste in unoccupied apartments to make it seem as if the falsely registered voters lived there.”
The indictment alleges also that the three “bribed potential voters by offering payments, subsidies and other items of value to get non-residents of Bloomingburg to unlawfully register and vote there. Lamm, for example, agreed to pay an individual $500 for every voter that the individual procured, and Lamm and Nakdimen’s real estate company ultimately paid the individual more than $30,000 per month for his efforts.”
Lamm’s attorneys, Larry Krantz and Gordon Mehler of Manhattan, issued a statement in which they said their client had been aware of the investigation for nearly three years and is “eager to defend himself against this unfounded charge. We intend to fight the charge vigorously at trial.”
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The FBI raided Lamm’s office in 2014. Included in the indictment are excerpts from a “very highly confidential” document whose “executive summary” circulated by Lamm in January 2013 said: “The developers … have worked for seven years in complete secrecy to achieve a fully approved project (Phase 1). It is intended to be a transformative development …. Critically, the development is in Bloomingburg, NY, the smallest village in NYS. With its initial occupancy of these homes, the owners of [the development] will effectively control the local government, its zoning and ordinances.”
Bloomingburg, located in Sullivan County, is a village with a population of about 420 people. It has a mayor and two trustees. On Dec. 12, 2013, the village’s planning board voted against measures the three developers sought for their project – homes that were not certified for occupancy in a development into which investors ultimately poured more than $50 million, according to the indictment.
Following the planning board’s meeting, the indictment quotes Nakdimen as saying: “It’s no more Mr. nice guy time. We need to win this election now more than ever and replace the entire planning board.”
When the village election was held March 18, 2014, the mayor and two trustees were up for reelection and the indictment said one of the mayoral candidates was a “confidante of Shalom Lamm.”