Mona’s Donors and Sampson’s Screw-ups
October 9, 2014
Like many other modern political scandals, the ones in this report first came to light as digital files--a single email and several unofficial videos that wandered onto Google’s YouTube website. Both are related to the disastrous recent attempt by the Town to hold a Special Election for a Ward System. The two principals in the story are highly compensated employees of the Town of Ramapo each pulling down the identical annual salary of $145,866--one with a 39% increase this year and the other with a 19% raise this year. Another commonality is that both have been observed as political operatives for the Supervisor, Christopher St. Lawrence, who, currently is the subject of FBI and SEC investigations.
Mona Montal is the Director of Purchasing at Town Hall. This year, St. Lawrence gave her the largest pay raise of anyone on the town payroll. She is a purchasing director for a town, yet her salary is only $500 less than Thomas DiNapoli, the Comptroller for the State of New York. It certainly wasn’t a merit raise, because as part of the Town’s three-person financial management team, she shares the blame for Ramapo’s dismal rating as the second-most fiscally stressed town in the entire state. So why was she given this obscene pay raise? Well, with Mona you get "added value" beyond her dismal performance on the financial team.
Supervisor St. Lawrence announced his opposition to the Ward System from the beginning. The reason is simple—it would provide a counterbalance to the bloc vote, which he has depended on to remain in office. He has been fighting for 10 years against letting the voters decide whether the town should have 6 board members from 6 geographic districts. And along with his Clerk, Chris Sampson, he has thrown out petition after petition asking for the vote. On their part, the current board members have announced their opposition to the Ward System with a generous solo of empty and shrill posturing performed by Brendel Logan. She added race baiting to the debate by claiming that a ward system could "potentially undermine minority representation" on the board.
Emilia White explained Brendel’s hypocrisy by reminding us of the facts in the last election. Emilia, a female candidate of color, ran against Brendel for a town board seat. "I was Ms. Charles' opponent for Ramapo Town Council in the 2011 Democratic Primary," Emilia explains. "She did not win in election districts where people of color live. In many of those districts, I beat her by more than two to one, even in her own home district. It was in Kaser and New Square that voters favored Ms. Charles overwhelmingly; without these two villages, she would have lost townwide. Had the ward system been in place, the voices of voters of color would not have been overridden by the Hasidic villages." In fact, the Dept of Justice often recommends the installation of a ward system in places where single groups have co-opted the vote to the exclusion of all others.
This was by no means an isolated instance of Brendel leaning her head back and turning on the wind machine, it’s what she does, but this was an especially distasteful attempt to inject race into the argument.
But back to Mona Montal’s efforts on behalf of St. Lawrence and the current Board. Once involved, Mona kicked it into high gear, putting in the hours right up to late into the evening before the election and then wandering the floor the next day, Election Day, at a New Square polling place where she shuffled over to a reporter and told her to stop taking photos. Oddly inappropriate, because Mona was not a poll worker and her boss had actually banned poll watchers, so she should not have been there, doing what she was doing. But then, Brendel also should not have been traveling around doing what she was doing at various polling places on election day.
Mona also went after the money, directly contacting the developers who had a lot to lose along with the Supervisor for whom pay to play is everyday at Ramapo Town Hall. Here is Mona’s email soliciting those developers and reported on by Steve Lieberman in The Journal News:
From: Mona Montal <we have omitted her email address here>
Sent Mon. Sep 29, 2014 6:43 am
Subject: Help Needed - "Red Alert"
Hi, I hope this note finds you well and enjoying the last few weeks of "summer weather". Unfortunately here in the Town of Ramapo, it has gotten Very Very Hot and it is not the weather. I have been charged with a mission and need your help. Basically, an anti-Chris St Lawrence group called Preserve Ramapo and a few other "haters" have mounted a campaign to disrupt what has been a very development and business friendly government here in town. They tend to forget all that Chris has done which has benefited them, including but not limited to all of the open-space he has bought and protected. This group has fought to have a public referendum put before the voters, which is now scheduled due to a court order Sept 30, this coming Tuesday.
COMMENT—"Red Alert" indeed. There are some serious questions that need to be answered here. Mona says, "I have been charged with a mission and need your help." She is turning to the developers and consultants for cash. Who ordered her to do this? It wasn’t the developers because she is now explaining to them what’s going on. Town Clerk Chris Sampson is not her boss, so does that leave only St. Lawrence? And was this work, the solicitation of funds done entirely off premises and only on her own time? This question obviously has to be part of the District Attorney’s investigation of this whole mess.
The characterization in her email of those supporting the Ward System as "haters" is the standard resort of Mona and others when they have no reasoned argument to present against a position. Like nasty children, rather than persuade with facts and logic, out of the vacuum comes statements like: the opposition are "Hitler’s grandchildren" (Former spokesman Yossi Gestetner in a Tweet), or, If they win they will be arresting our frum neighbors left and right (Community Connections print ad).
(The email continues)
We were not prepared in terms of funding, for the type of campaign we needed to launch in order to vote the ward down. In one week we needed to raise $170 000. Thus far we have commitments for $130.000 of which $95,000 is already in. We have a wonderful video which we believe will swing the middle of the road voters but we need an additional airtime. The funds in hand have already been committed and now we MUST raise the balance by tomorrow.
We were not prepared, we needed to launch, we needed to raise, we have commitments—"we," apparently, are those for whom Mona is working. But who are they? You could guess the "we" must at least include those who produced the video ad aired against the Ward. And there’s the PAC (Political Action Committee) called 63 is enough.
(The email continues)
We are only asking those who have the wherewithal and the incentive to make sizable contributions as we do not have time for a grass roots support campaign. To that end a PAC was created call [sic ] "63 is enough", as it is a PAC for a referendum there is NO MAXIMUM amount that individuals or corporations can give.
COMMENT—Forget the tens and twenties, folks, this is for the major players only (developers and consultants). You need to stake our effort, and we have set up a way for you to donate large sums of money without any inconvenient reporting that would expose who you are.
The 63 is enough PAC is registered with the State Board of Elections, and the owner’s address is the home address of Brett J. Bekritsky. We called the Board about the reporting requirements for this election and Bekritsky’s PAC, and the lawyers there told us that they have people on both sides of that question—some saying normal financial reporting is not required, some saying it is. The law is unclear.
(The email continues)
Below is a link to the video and a copy of a set of sample "talking points" that we have used. We have three mailings and a full day of GOTV planned.
COMMENT—The link that’s presented in the email text has been taken down.
(The email continues)
Basically, they are trying to kill us and if I sound like I am nervous and frightened it is because I am. The fact is that the vote comes in the middle of the Jewish holidays and many of our supporters are out of town. Even if we all come out against the ward system, they can in theory out number us. They are using the issue with the East Ramapo school district to put a wedge between us and the Spring Valley community. That could be the swing vote. The money has been spent on countering their attack in various ethnic and modern orthodox communities, which both seem to be leaning in the wrong direction on this issue.
We really really need your help. As I mentioned most of the developers are contributing between $10,000 and $20,000 - some consultants have given 5K. We are still short and without checks in hand today the print house and media organizations will not send out our material.
Please let me know if you need any additional information. I can be reached at 000-000-0000 (number omitted here but was included in the original).
COMMENT—"They are trying to kill us"!!?? Really, Mona? Do you have that little respect for the intelligence of the recipients of this email?
The complaint about the scheduling of the election is a little disingenuous because Montal knows better than most people that that date was chosen by Christopher St. Lawrence and submitted by Christian Sampson. As to the school district reference, of course the advocates for the Ward System would remind people of the absolute destruction of the East Ramapo School System by a bloc-vote enabled Board that does not serve the public school system. How is that not germane to how people will decide their vote?
Finally, the amount of money collected here well exceeds the legal limits for political donations in other elections. The fact that developers are the primary source of this cash verifies the connection between the developers/the Board/the Supervisor/and the bloc vote.
Tino [sic] West will be in contact with you today in reference to this urgent matter.
If at all possible please send me as quick response via email.
Checks can be picked up at your office by one of our supporters or they can be sent to Tino West and made outto "63 Is Enough".
Ramapo Democratic Committee
ps. the video Is really good, but cost a lot to produce.
We are Gold supporters of Ramapo $20,000
We are Silver supporters of Ramapo $10,000
We are Brass supporters of Ramapo $5,000
We are supporters of Ramapo $1,000
COMMENT—There are two very troubling legal problems in these closing paragraphs of the email. The first is the mention of Teno West’s name (Mona spells it Tino). Apparently, in this effort, he is a solicitor, like Mona, who will contact you later today to do what, make sure you contribute? And he is also the bag man for the funds? Teno West is a partner of Pannone, Lopes, Devareaux and West, and they are the law firm that handles the bond applications for the Town of Ramapo. Now unless there is another Tino West who is close to the Supervisor, close enough to be trusted with this kind of cash, then we have a high-power attorney specializing in municipal bonds mucking around with developer donations and picking up the donations as they come in. The agencies investigating this matter have to run this down and do some interviews.
The second problem, and she has no problem with the spelling here, is that Mona Montal signs this appeal for cash as the Chairwoman of the Ramapo Democratic Committee clearly creating the impression that this is from the Ramapo Democratic Committee. Actually, she’s not dealing with an impression, but rather the literal sense that this came from Mona Montal in her capacity as Ramapo Democratic Committee Chairwoman. The unethical use of her title as Chairwoman implying approval of her effort by the Committee is disgraceful, but not unexpected.
For those of you seeing for the first time this relationship between the builders who are rapidly urbanizing Ramapo for their own profit, and the Supervisor and the Board members, please keep this in mind as a new vote is scheduled on the Ward—they are all joined at the hip.
Town Clerk Christian Sampson owes the Taxpayers $250,000 (cost of the tossed election)
With both hands raised, palms out, St. Lawrence explained to his radio listeners: Wait a minute, it’s not the Supervisor who’s running this election, it’s the Town Clerk.
A curious statement from someone who had announced that this whole thing was going to happen in the dark, with no Poll Watchers being allowed at any of the polling places. St. Lawrence even sent his attorney Michael Klein to argue in court to guarantee this lack of transparency. You would think that with this public disavowal by St. Lawrence that Sampson might have gotten his first whiff of the fumes of the lumbering bus beneath which he was being tossed, but not a cough or wince. But then again, Christian Sampson got this year’s second biggest pay raise in Ramapo, $23,252 (19%) to hike his salary to the Mona plateau of $145,866. Some rarefied air there. Sampson, in fact, makes $25,000 more per year than the New York Secretary of State, Cesar Perales, the guy who’s the keeper of the state records.
It didn’t take long for the chaos to erupt on Election Day, Tuesday Sept. 30. Early and late, the incorrect and withheld information about the paper ballots erupted throughout the polling places around Ramapo. And by late afternoon, the State Supreme Court had decided it would order the impounding of all ballots—those in the machines, those in the envelopes marked affidavit ballots, and the absentee ballots, some or many of which might still have been in the mail. Judge Margaret Garvey pointed an accusing finger directly at the Town Clerk in explaining her decision. "[She] wrote that Sampson’s mistakes, in the preparation and dissemination of the absentee ballot applications, were ‘so egregious and fundamental to the special town election process that it cannot be rectified’ with any order directing procedures for the counting of the absentee ballots." (The Journal News)
There seems to have been a pattern of information withheld from the voters by Sampson and now that the ballots are locked up, the matter has to be looked at as a potential criminal matter. If the intention was to exclude voters by not telling the public that the town had decided to allow non-registered voters to vote by affidavit ballots, and if the deadline for handing in the absentee ballots was intentionally withheld until the afternoon before the election in order to exclude some or many absentee ballots, then law enforcement needs to step in and make some determinations.
In the early stages of collecting statements from poll workers, Preserve Ramapo has noticed some disturbing patterns beginning to emerge.
Here is a video of Christian Sampson in the middle of the afternoon on Election Day, at the Montebello polling station explaining to the workers that the town would accept ballots from people who were not registered but who had lived here in Ramapo for 30 days. In effect he is changing the rules in the middle of the game. We have affidavits from poll workers that in his training sessions, Sampson did not mention any change in the way affidavit ballots would be done. Listen to the poll workers objections and Sampson’s admission that this decision to tell them, with half the time for the election already gone, that it was his fault, his mistake.Town Clerk Chris Sampson speaking to poll workers, 9-30-2014
Then watch this video of Sampson on the eve of the election. Robert Rhodes from Preserve Ramapo attempts to ask him direct questions about the ballots and the rules and Sampson doesn’t have time to explain either. Obviously we would have posted his changes to the rules on our website, but Sampson refused to answer the questions so we had no way to inform the voters. At this point, he knew about the changes in dates and procedures, but refused to reveal them. We have poll workers who also have verified that he did not reveal the changes to them in their training sessions. Click on the image to watch the YouTube video.
The election cost taxpayers $250,000. Now it has to be done again. As a taxpayer, you might want to send an email to Mr. Sampson explaining your view of public officials who remove the most fundamental right afforded to citizens—the right to vote.
It is also very important that law enforcement follow up on a thorough examination of what happened in this special election. We have had stories of non-residents voting, people coming in with already filled out affidavits, and more. Any effort to misinform and thereby disenfranchise voters, or to fraudulently vote in an election must be prosecuted.