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Federal prosecutors in the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York have unsealed an indictment charging developer Shalom Lamm, Kenneth Nakdimen, and Volvy Smilowitz a/k/a “Zev Smilowitz” with conspiring to corrupt local elections in the Sullivan County, New York village of Bloomingburg by registering non-residents to vote there.
Nadkimen is a business partner of Lamm’s. Smilowitz is identified in the indictment as a business associate of Lamm and Nakdimen’s. Lamm is the son of Norman Lamm, the prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi and longtime leader of Yeshiva University.
The indictment charges that Lamm and his co-defendants conspired to register voters in Bloomingburg who did not actually live there in advance of a 2014 mayoral election given that Lamm’s real estate development plans had met with resistance from local activists and officials since 2013. According to the indictment, the conspirators offered rent-free apartments in return for registering to vote. Lamm also allegedly agreed to pay an individual $500 for per voter obtained, with his real estate firm paying the individual $30,000 per month.
Lamm had purchased hundreds of acres in Bloomingburg with plans to build 5,000 units of housing around the village for Hasidic Jews. The 396-unit Chestnut Ridge is partially built with some families having already moved in.
“In pursuit of millions of dollars in profits from a real estate development project, the defendants allegedly hatched a cynical ploy to corrupt the electoral process in Bloomingburg,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “As alleged, to get public officials supportive of their development project elected to local government, the defendants concocted a scheme to falsely register voters who did not live in Bloomingburg, including some who had never even set foot there. And to cover up their voter fraud scheme, the defendants allegedly back-dated fake leases and even placed toothpaste and toothbrushes in empty apartments to make them appear occupied by the falsely registered voters. Profit-driven corruption of democracy cannot be allowed to stand no matter who does it or where it happens.”
According to FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr., “Today’s charges allege the defendants corruptly advanced their own personal real estate projects in Bloomingburg, New York, at the expense of honest citizens who expect and deserve a fair election system. In their scheme to promote their own real estate development projects, the defendants violated federal law as they schemed to put themselves first. This type of behavior simply won’t be tolerated.”
Lamm’s attorneys denied the charges in a statement: “Shalom Lamm has been aware of this investigation for almost three years, and is eager to defend himself against this unfounded charge. We intend to fight the charge vigorously at trial.” Smilowitz’s attorney said: “The charges are unfair and unwarranted, and Mr. Smilowitz looks forward to his day in court.”
Bharara also announced that Harold Baird, the former supervisor of Mamakating, the town in which Bloomingburg is located, already pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to submit false voter registrations, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The case is assigned to United States District Judge Cathy Seibel, and Baird will be sentenced at a future date.
Recently, opponents of Lamm’s development have spoken out.
- “We will pursue every avenue available to us,” said Bill Herrmann, the Mamakating supervisor. Herrmann said that he, town board and its attorneys are discussing revisiting crucial decisions made that formed the foundation of Chestnut Ridge. “All of the things that have gone on up until now, can all of that be reopened? I believe that [they] can be.” Herrmann further said that the village will look into the many lawsuits in which it had been involved in connection with Lamm’s development, possibly revisit the original 2006 decision to annex Chestnut Ridge to the town of Bloomingburg, and file a class action defamation lawsuit on behalf of the entire town against those who have called Mamakating’s residents anti-Semites as a result of their opposition to Lamm’s development.
- Holly Roche said, “I hope that it successfully gets litigated and that they get justice. There are a lot of people that have spent a lot of time trying to shed light on what is going on in Bloomingburg.”
- “I honestly feel like Christmas came early this year,” said Kathy Roemer, a former member of Bloomingburg’s village board. “I don’t know if you can imagine what it’s like to be saying this is wrong, this is wrong, and people are like, ‘Oh, shut up, you’re being a big baby.’’
If you or a family member has been a victim of corruption or fraud, you and/or your family member may be entitled to money damages.