A former Yonkers councilwoman and the one-time leader of the city's Republican Party were found guilty Thursday of corruption when jurors rejected a claim that it was a case of romance, not vote-buying.
A federal court jury in Manhattan convicted Sandy Annabi, 41, and Zehy Jereis, 40, of all charges, including collaborating on bribes to win Annabi's City Council vote for two development projects.
Jereis claimed in court that he showered Annabi with money and other gifts worth $174,000 because he fell in love with her. He offered as evidence emails he said he sent her in which he pined to be her boyfriend, although he was married.
"I will never give up on wanting to be your other half," one email said. "We will make the greatest couple one day. Maybe one day you will wake up and feel the same."
In court, Jereis said, "I wanted to do anything I could possibly do to be with her."
He allegedly paid her mortgage, cable bills, electricity bills, student loan payments, auto lease bills and other charges between 2002 and 2008.
Prosecutors suggested the emails were fake.
"The only love these two shared was a love of money," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone.
In addition to the corruption charges, both Annabi and Jereis were convicted of extortion and depriving Yonkers of honest services. Annabi was convicted of making false statements to banks and filing false tax returns.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the convictions "a victory for the citizens of Yonkers" and "another clarion call to corrupt public officials and those who contemplate buying their influence, that we will do everything within our power to root out, prosecute and punish this conduct."
The verdict came on the fifth day of deliberations. Judge Colleen McMahon told jurors, "The trial took longer than any of us had reason to think that it would."
No sentencing date was set. By statute, each defendant could face many decades in prison, but federal guidelines will likely result in much shorter sentences. After the verdict, arguing unsuccessfully for higher bail, a prosecutor said Annabi faces 12 to 15 years.
The defendants would not comment after the verdict. Annabi's lawyer, William Aronwald, said he would ask the judge to set aside the verdict and, failing that, would appeal.
"I just don't think the government proved its case," he said.
Jereis' lawyer, Anthony Siano, expressed disappointment but added, "There's a lot more fight in this."
Prosecutors said Jereis worked with developers to control Annabi's votes on two projects, one of which came to fruition: the $842 million Ridge Hill retail and residential development.
They said Jereis' reward for getting Annabi to change her vote on Ridge Hill was a $60,000 no-show job.
Annabi did not testify. Her lawyer said she changed her votes because the developers made concession to help the city, including an extra $10 million in tax revenue from Ridge Hill.
He also said prosecutors never showed a connection between the payments and her votes for Ridge Hill and a housing plan at the former Longfellow School, both of which she had previously opposed.
Annabi, a Democrat, was indicted early in 2010, a few days after leaving office.
One key witness was Anthony Mangone, a political operative who was indicted with Annabi and Jereis but pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors. He testified that he gave Jereis $20,000 for Annabi from the developers of the school project.
Mangone worked for a time for then-state Sen. Nicholas Spano. Spano, who represented Yonkers, pleaded guilty last month to tax evasion and could be sent to prison in June.