Corporation Counsel Loretta Hottinger
SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
Corporation Counsel Loretta Hottinger has repeatedly shown Mount Vernon taxpayers that she is not capable of safeguarding the City of Mount Vernon’s finances and to act in the best interest of Mount Vernon taxpayers. Instead she has shown taxpayers that she is nothing more than a political hack who will sell her soul to the highest bidder. Her latest action of intentionally omitting 1st Corporation Counsel Nichelle Johnson’s position from the 2010 budget can cost Mount Vernon taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Any Judge or jury with even an ounce of intelligence will clearly rule in favor of Nichelle Johnson and deem Hottinger’s and Mayor Young’s actions retaliatory. In the event that Ms. Johnson is victorious in Court, Mount Vernon residents hope and pray that the judge holds the perpetrators personally responsible so that the burden will not have such an impact on the taxpayers. Perhaps, developers looking to come into Mount Vernon should set aside some affordable housing units for our elected officials to live in after their assets are seized and auctioned off to pay for their reckless and ignorant decision making.
There has been speculation that Johnson’s position was going to be eliminated before the general election. Sources have told Mount Vernon Exposed that Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee 1st Vice Chairman Reginald Lafayette was the architect behind this doltish scheme. Rumors have been circulating for several weeks that Johnson’s position was going to be eliminated. Sources have quoted Lafayette saying that “there is a price to pay when you go against the party”. Hottinger still upset that she was not appointed Judge instead of Helen Blackwood, seized this opportunity to remove her biggest threat, Nichelle Johnson. With speculation that there may be more openings on the bench in Mount Vernon in the near future, Hottinger did not waste any time carrying out this heinous act.
Mount Vernon residents have been flooding Mount Vernon Exposed’s inbox for an in depth analysis into the shadowy administration of Mayor Clinton Young. Many residents are scratching their heads as to why Hottinger and Mayor Young would eliminate Johnson’s position and keep the inexperienced, sophomore Joana Aggrey on the payroll. Agrrey is the wife of the foul mouthed, “Brain Trust” John Boykin. Joana Aggrey is now charged with the responsibility of attending City Council and Board of Estimate meetings and too was introduced as part of this “Brain Trust” by Mayor Young. Her signature can also be found on most ordinances and resolutions that have been passed by either the City Council or the Board of Estimate and Contract as the attorney of record. Mount Vernon Exposed has obtained copies of an ordinance and a resolution with 4th Assistant Joana Aggrey’s signature on it. We deem these documents to be suspicious. The documents presented to the Council had a dollar amount on it, while the same document that went before the Board of Estimate and contract has no dollar amount whatsoever on it, essentially giving the Department Head and Mayor Young a blank check to spend as much of Mount Vernon taxpayers’ money as possible. Corporation Counsel Nichelle Johnson saves Mount Vernon taxpayers in one month more than enough money that can pay for her annual salary. One can come to the conclusion that Johnson is not a liability to taxpayers, while on the other hand 4th Assistant Corporation Counsel Joana Aggrey is a major liability to Mount Vernon taxpayers. Something does not add up here.
One person speaking on the condition on anonymity claimed to have inside knowledge and has had dealings with the Young administration. Mount Vernon Exposed was given this theory. Regardless if Ms. Johnson ran for election this year her position was going to be eliminated in the 2010 budget the source stated.
Here are the reasons why:
· Loretta Hottinger prior to being appointed to the Corporation Counsel position was very familiar with the skills of Ms. Johnson as was very well aware that Ms. Johnson had saved the City of Mount Vernon millions of dollars by handling and litigating cases personally. Hottinger also realized that there are several pending Civil Rights lawsuits against the City of Mount Vernon filed by Sam Zherka and these lawsuits can result in a payday in the tens of millions of dollars. With all of the evidence stacked against Mayor Young, Yolanda Robinson, and other defendants the City of Mount Vernon cannot defend these lawsuits. The last thing Mayor Young and Yolanda Robinson would want to see is enemies of theirs defeat the City of Mount Vernon and increase his wealth. Hottinger, Young and a few other power brokers then start to brainstorm to figure out a way to profit from their misfortunes. All of the conspirators are aware that Ms. Johnson is the only attorney in-house that can defend and litigate these complex cases. Immediately upon taking her new position, it is alleged that Hottinger began to immediately outsource cases and pull cases away from Ms. Johnson and send them to firms that bill the City of Mount Vernon ridiculous amounts of money. It is unclear whether or not Hottinger has had any prior business dealings with these law firms, is a shareholder in these firms, or if she followed proper protocol retaining these law firms. It is also alleged that Hottinger, Mayor Young and others would receive kick backs from these law firms in exchange for the new business they are receiving from the City of Mount Vernon. These conspirators’ are all aware of the substantial amount of billable hours involved with these cases.
Loretta Hottinger is no stranger to questionable behavior. Judge Rory Bellantoni ruled earlier this year that the City of Mount Vernon did not go through the proper channels when it hired the law firm of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman, and Dicker, LLP. This firm was hired by the City Council and their sole aim was to go after Comptroller Maureen Walker about PILOT payments. This would be the first in a series of political maneuvers to attempt to push her out of office. First Deputy Comptroller Thomas Rajala has since asked Hottinger for an opinion on how to recoup the $39,000 in illegal payments already paid to the firm. It is unclear if Hottinger has even provided the opinion. There has also been speculation that this law firm has political ties to major power brokers in Westchester County and that can be part of the reason why Hottinger has no interest in recouping the illegal payments that were issued. Mike Edelman the New 12 political analyst is a partner at the law firm in question and he is also close friends with Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore. If Hottinger was to go after this firm to recoup the money stolen from Mount Vernon taxpayers, this would be political suicide for her. Her dream of becoming a Judge would never become reality. If Hottinger was to remain silent and look the other way, allegedly she would reap huge financial profits and no one would prosecute her or even launch an investigation into her nefarious activities because the long arm of the law is on her side.
While Hottinger was on the City Council, specifically while she was City Council president, the City Council held a public hearing on the PILOT payments. The main purpose of this hearing was to publicly embarrass Comptroller Maureen Walker. The testimony given by Walker would then be forwarded to Inspector General Harry Stokes so that he can perform his analysis. On July 8th, 2008 Inspector General Harry Stokes made his report public. In Stokes’ opening statement, he stated that The City of Mount Vernon’s Pilot program is not in compliance with New York State Law. He further stated that The City of Mount Vernon industrial Development Agency lacks internal controls and accounting procedures. Stokes, who was appointed by Mayor Young, initially had applied for the position of Commissioner of Management Services. In is unclear who came up with the idea that he was qualified to be Inspector General. Stokes stated in his report that projects are not properly tracked and that there is a lack of communication between key participants in the administrative process. At the end of his report, Inspector General Stokes issued 11 recommendations that in his mind would prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. It could not be determined if any of the recommendations are now standard operating procedures. An attorney from the Office of Corporation Counsel is present at all IDA meetings.
This same IDA that Stokes says lacks internal controls, and is headed by Mayor Clinton Young had a theft this year of about $12,000. Where are the internal controls and procedures that Stokes put into place? A lot questions remain unanswered. The Mayor has demonstrated though his actions that the appointment of Inspector General Harry Stokes was 100% political and his only mission was to find fault with Comptroller Maureen Walker and to alert the Mayor of whistle blowers within his administration so that they can quickly clean up the paper trail. Perhaps he should be investigating Corporation Counsel Loretta Hottinger and the City Council members that voted to illegally obtain retain outside counsel. But taxpayers already know that Stokes will not investigate the very same people who voted to create his six figure position.
Inspector rips Mt. Vernon tax deals
By Jorge Fitz-Gibbon
The Journal News • July 16, 2008
The Journal News • July 16, 2008
MOUNT VERNON - The city has done such a poor job of monitoring tax agreements with large-property owners that the deals violated state law and present a "fertile opportunity for waste, fraud and abuse," a report by the city inspector general has determined.
Mount Vernon Inspector General Harry Stokes also said the agreements, called payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, are so shoddily tracked that it's unclear just how many the city has.
"After a thorough review of the sworn testimony and submitted documentation," Stokes wrote in a 12-page report, "it is impossible to determine and validate with any degree of certainty (1) how many valid PILOT projects exist, (2) whether the projects are current in their payments or (3) what the actual payment is even supposed to be in some instances."
PILOT agreements are deals in which municipalities allow large-property owners to make lump-sum tax payments that are lower than standard property taxes.
In Mount Vernon, the deals are brokered by the Industrial Development Agency. City Comptroller Maureen Walker, who serves as IDA treasurer, took issue with Stokes' criticism of the deals, and said it was Stokes who did a shoddy job - in compiling the report. "I would first like to inform you that you have significantly compromised your credibility and that of your office in engaging in cheap political activities rather than tackling the real issues facing city government," Walker wrote in a scathing July 10 letter to Stokes. "Your lack of objectivity and your unfounded conclusions based on 'second hand information' appear to be political in nature."
Walker is feuding with Mount Vernon Mayor Clinton Young and the City Council, and was a longtime adversary of former Mayor Ernest Davis, who was voted out of office last year.
The city's IDA is always headed by the sitting mayor. Stokes' report, completed July 3 and made public this week, follows a yearlong quest by the City Council to get more details on the city's PILOT agreements. But Walker, Mount Vernon's longstanding elected comptroller, said Stokes never spoke to her directly. She said the IDA has adhered to state reporting requirements and does use standard operating procedures, despite Stokes' claims to the contrary.
Stokes could not be reached for comment yesterday. But in his report, Stokes conceded that he did not conduct an official audit of the IDA and its PILOT deals. Rather, he was asked by the City Council to review the deals. The council began seeking information about the deals in March 2007 and subpoenaed Walker, city Assessor Anthony DeBellis and IDA secretary Carmen Sylvester. Stokes reviewed transcripts of their questioning by the council, as well as relevant state and local laws.
City Council President Loretta Hottinger said the board would now review the report in conjunction with the council's attorneys.
"When we started this investigation, any person that we questioned could've been a hero if their responses had been proper and correct and complete, if the documentation would have been supplied to us," Hottinger said yesterday. "I leave it to the public to decide whether or not it's political. We just laid out the questions. Let people look at what the answers were."
In a written statement, the mayor's chief of staff, Yolanda Robinson, said the "days of backroom deals and withholding information regarding PILOT agreements and other public financial data are over."
"The Inspector General's latest report clearly demonstrates the need to establish definitive written fiscal policy in the city," she said.
Based on the records he reviewed, Stokes said, the city had no accurate accounting of the deals, to the degree that there were different accounts as to how many PILOT agreements there were - ranging from seven to 14.
The report also found that there was little cooperation and communication between city departments, with DeBellis testifying that he was routinely ignored when he sought information about the properties that had been taken off the tax rolls through the deals.
The City Council's inability to obtain the records also signaled a violation of state law, which mandates a complete listing of PILOT properties be kept for 10 years, according to the report. The council found no such record, he said.
Stokes concluded his report with recommendations that include a call for the IDA to adhere to state reporting and record-keeping requirements, and improve communication and cooperation between relevant agencies.
MAYORAL CONTRIBUTOR CURRENTLY SEEKING TAX BREAKS FROM IDA
Titus Investment, LLC a financial contributor of Mayor Young is now looking for the IDA, the same agency that Inspector General Stokes said lacked internal controls and is a fertile environment for fraud, waste, and abuse, to give their company tax breaks and a PILOT agreement with the IDA. There is a public hearing held at 10 A.M. on December 7th, 2009 in the Memorial Room at City Hall regarding the PILOT Agreement. Who does Mayor Young think he is fooling? One thing is for sure the Feds are watching.
Findings of Fact
The Office of Corporation Counsel is charged with the duty to defend the City against lawsuits. Corporation Counsel Loretta Hottinger must make full disclosure to the public about her business and shareholder interest, if any to the public immediately regarding the law firms that do business with the City of Mount Vernon. Politics do not belong in the Office of Corporation Counsel. It is recommended that the City Council take action to put the Office of Corporation Counsel under their jurisdiction and to remove Loretta Hottinger from office as soon as possible. If the situation is allowed to remain as it is, the City of Mount Vernon can potentially be bankrupt before 2011. Corporation Counsel Loretta Hottinger must vigorously recoup all monies illegally paid to individuals and corporations. Mount Vernon knows of two such instances that monies have illegally left the City coffers in 2009 while Hottinger was at the wheel. There are several instances of theft of services, official misconduct, wire fraud and mail fraud. These activities can be classified as those pertaining to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico Act). It is therefore recommended that this report be referred to the United States Attorney’s Office (Southern District) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for immediate prosecution.
Copyright 2007 - Journal News, The White Plains, NY - All Rights Reverved October 30th, 2007
MOUNT VERNON - Mayor Ernie Davis' pro bono lawyer, Ravi Batra, announced yesterday he has issued subpoenas to City Council members, the corporation counsel and the comptroller seeking a wide range of documents as part of the mayor's own investigation into city activities.
Davis gave Batra the authority to identify fraud, waste and abuse in the wake of two federal probes into city trash-hauling contracts and its troubled Urban Renewal Agency. Batra now has the power to examine the accounts of city officers, departments and the money, securities and property belonging to the city in the possession or charge of any officer or department.
"This is not about politics," Batra said. "This is about the rule of law. This is the nuclear weapon of honest government."
He said the "baseline subpoenas" will be returnable after the Nov. 6 election.
The subpoenas ask for all budget requests, submitted cell-phone bills, any disclosed conflicts of interest, personal expense reimbursements, contract requests, identifications of all employees assigned to the council, solicitations for bids from law firms, documents on no-bid contracts and correspondence from the City Council from Jan. 1, 1998, to the present.
The subpoenas named all city council members except Yuhanna Edwards. Batra said Edwards has not served on the Urban Renewal Agency and therefore was not named.
The other council members - Steven Horton, Loretta Hottinger, William Randolph and Lyndon Williams -are requested to submit their schedules and other information, in addition to other documents. Batra is seeking the same materials from Corporation Counsel Helen Blackwood and Comptroller Maureen Walker.
The subpoena also asks Blackwood for a list of credentials used to draft requests for proposals and records of the process to open city bids. Walker is being asked to submit all materials regarding her participation on the Board of Estimate and Contract and other financial records.
Batra's original list of officials he expected to target with subpoenas, which he described last week, included both Edwards and City Clerk Lisa Copeland. He said Copeland was dropped because he does not need records from her at this time.
Batra announced the subpoenas at a press conference in which Davis criticized both the council and his mayoral opponent, county Legislator Clinton Young, who beat him in the Democratic primary. Davis, who also faces a challenge from Republican Janet Snyder, is running on the Conservative and Independent lines.
Davis supporters have said the FBI has political motives in its probes, but the mayor said only that he believed his political enemies are the ones supplying information to investigators.
"Investigations happen when people drop a dime on someone," Davis said. "No, I don't know for sure but I am putting two and two together. There are too many coincidences."
Young responded by saying in a statement: "It's unfortunate that Ernie Davis continues to drag the City and everyone else into his own personal issues. It's truly disingenuous and shameful for him to continue to blame the federal government, the city council and everyone else for his own mismanagement and scandals."
Council members have opposed Batra's appointment as the mayor's attorney and questioned its legality. Horton, the council president, said the council will review the subpoenas, but called them "a publicity stunt with no legal bearing designed to deflect the attention from the mayor."
Another council member, Lyndon Williams, called them "harassment."
Reach Desiree Grand at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-696-8456.