Ethics Board Report on New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson is Complete

Report expected to be delivered by Friday

Ethics Board Report on New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson is Complete
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NEW ROCHELLE, NY (June 1, 2022) -- The New Rochelle Ethics Board has completed their long-awaited report today based on a 12-week investigation into an ethics complaint against New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson and others filed by me on March 20, 2022.

The report is expected to be distributed in the next 24 hours. If the allegations are sustained, even in part, that would justify a referral to the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office by City Manager Charles B. Strome.

The big question will then be whether Strome makes such a referral. If not, as the Complainant, I believe I have legal standing to make such a referral and will make such a referral.

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Bramson has threatened to sue Strome, Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill and others if Strome makes a criminal referral.

There have been needless delays — the report was drafted in April — due to stonewalling by one of the Ethics Board members, orchestrated, according to multiple sources, by Bramson, through Barry Fertel who has represented Council member Sara Kaye. Fertel has bragged about having inappropriate, if not illegal, ex-parte discussions with David Blumenthal about the report.

Ethics Board member David Blumenthal for weeks refused to sign the report, blocking its release.

As the intervention of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office to take control of the investigation became increasingly likely, Blumenthal, under pressure, agreed to sign the report with the condition that the report would include his version of the report. Given the likely source — Noam Bramson and his attorney Steven Leventhal — we are not likely to credit that portion of the report.

I will get into that subject more fully once readers have had an opportunity to digest the report, but it has become clear that David Blumenthal is not fit to serve on an Ethics Board and needs to be removed immediately.

For those not fully up to speed on my reporting to date, a summary follows:

The allegations in my ethics complaint were based largely on a memo to Bramson from Strome which detailed how Bramson badgered Strome for close to a year to be appointed to the position of Commissioner of Economic Development which pays about $210,000 annually.

The matter came to light after I filed a Freedom of Information request in early March, soon after Strome announced his retirement effective at the end of 2022 and announced promoting Adam Salgado to Commissioner of Economic Development and naming Kathleen Gill as Deputy City Manager in addition to her role as Corporation Counsel.

Bramson wanted the Economic Development position for himself and the City Manager position for Alisa H. Kesten, his former campaign manager.

The allegations detail how New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson and as many as four members of the New Rochelle City Council committed violations of the City Charter, misdemeanors under New York State General Municipal Law.

Under the New Rochelle City Charter, if convicted of violating the City Charter, Bramson and his colleagues on Council would forfeit their public office.

The allegations in the ethics complaint were required to fit within the four corners of the City’s ethics policy and their complaint investigation procedure. A charge that was not referenced in the complaint — because it is a criminal charge, not an ethics violation — is a charge based on an elected official using the powers of their elected office to seek something of value for themselves.

If convicted of violating provisions of New York State General Municipal Law — violating the public trust — Bramson could face penalties that include removal from office, permanent disqualification from holding any state position, fines, or incarceration.

The New Rochelle Ethics Board is limited to offering advisory opinions. It has no power to sanction or punish City employees or to make criminal referrals to the District Attorney. The City Manager can refer the matter to the District Attorney, or the DA can take up the matter on her own.

The report will be provided to the City Manager, the City Council and me as the Complainant. As one of the authorized recipients of the Ethics Board report, I will publish the report. Transcripts of witness testimony, also part of the report, are not likely to be provided on grounds that the transcripts may become part of a criminal investigation by the DA. I disagree and will appeal that decision if the transcripts are withheld.

Bramson allegedly violated at least three sections of the New Rochelle City Charter.

Article VI §41 describes the responsibility of the City Manager to make appointments based on executive, administrative ability, training and experience. Article VII §76.00 describes the required qualifications for the Commissioner of Economic Development, including not less than 10 years of progressively responsible technical and managerial experience in community planning, traffic engineering and renewals and redevelopment projects and planning and administration. Noam Bramson does not meet any of the statutory qualifications for the position of Commissioner of Economic Development.

Article VI §43 prohibits members of Council from interfering in appointments or removals by the City Manager.

Bramson cannot be involved in appointments or removals by the City Manager, and so prohibited from seeking any position in the City government for himself or others.

It came out during the investigation that Bramson was seeking an unprecedented 5-year contract. The City Charter prohibits contracts of any length for City Commissioners who serve at the pleasure of the City Manager.

In the New York State and Local Retirement System, for all but Tier 6 employees, the Final Average Salary is based on the last three years of earnings unless there is a year-to-year increase greater than 20% in which case the employee would need to work three years after the salary bump, effectively a five-year time frame. This might explain Bramson’s desire for a 5-year contact — to pad his pension.

Bramson’s alleged interference involved an attempt to build a coalition among Council Members to threaten Strome with removal from office if he did not rescind giving Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill the additional title of Deputy City Manager.

The City Manager serves at the pleasure of Council and can be removed by a majority vote at any time.

The Mayor discussed his plan with Martha Lopez, Elizabeth Fried, Yadira Ramos-Herbert, and Sara Kaye. Lopez and Fried flatly rejected the Mayor’s overtures; Ramos-Herbert, and Kaye agreed to support the plan, sources say. With only two members on board, the effort collapsed.

The New Rochelle Ethics Board completed taking witness testimony in their investigation on Friday, May 6. The witnesses were City Manager Charles B. Strome (twice), Mayor Noam Bramson, Corporation Counsel and Deputy City Manager Kathleen Gill, Human Resources Commissioner Robert Yamuder, Development Commissioner Adam Salgado, Monroe College President Marc Jerome, in his capacity as Chairman of the Board of the New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District, Council Members Martha Lopez, Albert Tarantino, Yadira Ramos-Herbert, Ivar Hyden, Sara Kaye, Elizabeth Fried.

Noam Bramson and Sara Kaye had legal representation present during their appearances before the Ethics Board.

The New Rochelle Ethics Board is comprised of three members: Chairman Charles Phipps, David Blumenthal, and Michelle Oliveros.

As the City Clerk, Oliveros recused herself from the investigation, as she did for a similar investigation into allegations of ethics violations against Christine Dodge.

Dodge, the City’s former Human Resources Commissioner, was investigated by the Ethics Board in 2021 after an ethics complaint filed by me claimed she failed to disclose an alleged sexual relationship with New Rochelle Police Detective and PBA President Christopher Greco while the pair were the lead negotiators on the current PBA contract. Before the investigation was complete, Dodge resigned as Human Resources Commissioner and Greco as PBA President and from the New Rochelle Police Department.

Peter Miesels, a partner at the law firm of Wilson Elser, is counsel to the New Rochelle Ethics Board. He led the questioning of witnesses throughout the Dodge and Bramson investigations — closed-door testimony taken at the City Council Conference Room at City Hall.

Miesels was the primary report writer in both cases.

Under New York State General Municipal Law, the City Manager is required to refer any possible criminal charges to the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.

DA Mimi Rocah can choose not to pursue charges, file charges or refer the matter to a Grand Jury, widely viewed as the most likely option if she wants any criminal case to move forward.

In a letter dated May 23, 2022, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, through his attorney Steven Leventhal, threatened legal action if Strome were to refer a report by the New Rochelle Ethics Board to Rocah.

“In the event of an investigation conducted by the District Attorney, I would advise my client, in the strongest terms, to use every appropriate means to defend his rights and reputation,” said Leventhal while making specific allusions to litigation aimed at Strome, Gill, and Meisels.

Bramson is hoping to block a referral to the District Attorney and pressure Strome to turn the matter over to the City Council, where Bramson believes he may have enough support to reduce the consequences for any violations to a slap on the wrist.

District Attorney Rocah declined to comment on Bramson’s threat.

Strome shared the threat letter with the New Rochelle City Council on May 25 and requested authorization from City Council members for the City to provide attorneys for himself, Gill, and a member of her law department staff. Mayor Bramson did not respond to the request. Sara Kaye supported providing a lawyer to Strome, but not for Gill or her staffer. Martha Lopez, Albert Tarantino, Ivar Hyden, Elizabeth Fried and, notably, Yadira Ramos-Herbert, all supported the City providing a lawyer to all three City employees.

The decision of Yadira Ramos-Herbert to support a lawyer for Gill amounts to a break with Bramson on the response to the Ethics Board investigation.

Yadira Ramos-Herbert and Sara Kaye have both reportedly put themselves forward to succeed Bramson as Mayor in the 2023 election cycle — or sooner if Bramson leaves his position as Mayor before the end of his term. Westchester County Legislator Damon Maher and attorney Greg Varian have also put their hat in the ring to be Mayor.

As described in the ethics complaint against Bramson, Gill has been in Bramson’s sights since Strome named her Deputy City Manager in March, potentially blocking Bramson from installing a puppet City Manager, Alisa Kesten, his former campaign manager.

The Ethics Board has been aware from the beginning of the not-so-subtle subtext of the ethics complaint, the appearance of a quid pro quo where Bramson would let Strome keep his job as City Manager if Strome gave Bramson the Development Commissioner job (Plan A). When Strome refused, Bramson alternatively would let Strome keep his job as City Manager if he rescinded the appointment of Kathleen Gill as Deputy City Manager to clear the way for Branson’s former Campaign Manager Alisa H. Kesten who could then give Bramson the Development Commissioner job (Plan B) and/or serve briefly then resign to clear a path for Bramson to be hired by Council as City Manager (Plan C).

Marc Jerome was added to the witness list after Talk of the Sound published an article on April 24 about a meeting that took place more than three months ago. On February 16, Jerome joined Strome and Bramson for lunch at Spadaros on East Main Street. The Mayor, who had never shown much interest in the BID, requested a meeting with Marc Jerome, through Chuck Strome, in Jerome’s capacity as BID Board President. Bramson declared that he wanted Jerome to replace three members of the BID Board.

Positions on the BID Board are elected to two-year terms. Members cannot be removed and replaced by fiat. The BID Board holds elections every June. With three new BID Board members beholden to Bramson (out of 13), the three seats reserved for City officials and native support from current board members, Bramson could establish effective control of the BID Board then create another option for himself, to become Executive Director of the BID, a part-time job that pays $150,000 (Plan D).

In the days immediately after the BID meeting, Strome accelerated his efforts to stymie Bramson’s push to be hired as Development Commissioner by preparing and sending a memo which is now at the heart of the ethics investigation.

After the ethics complaint was filed against him, Bramson attempted to accelerate the pace of hiring of a new City Manager to replace Strome, possibly even earlier than Strome’s planned retirement on December 31, 2022. Bramson was rebuffed in these efforts when four members of Council agreed that it was inappropriate for the Mayor to lead a City Manager search while the subject of an ethics investigation involving allegations related to the City Manager.

Council Members Lopez, Tarantino, Hyden and Fried rejected the Mayor’s proposal with Ramos-Herbert and Kaye supporting it, the same Council alignment as with Bramson’s attempt to force Bramson to rescind the Gill appointment.

During witness testimony, sources familiar with the investigation say, the Ethics Board heard a shocking new violation. A witness testified that Bramson not only coveted the Development Commissioner job, with an annual salary of $210,000, but was pushing Strome for an unprecedented five-year contract worth over a million dollars.

Such a contract would violate Article VII §46 of the City Charter, which states that department heads shall be appointed by the City Manager and shall hold office at the City Manager's pleasure — no contracts. Even the City Manager is limited by the City Charter to no more than a two-year contract.

Bramson’s actions to pressure Strome to give him a million dollar contract for a job he was not qualified to fill by the City Charter could be taken as a form of extortion or bribery.

If District Attorney Mimi Roach were to go that route, Bramson would be facing far more severe consequences including restitution, decades in prison, and fines running up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Such penalties are normally reserved for cases involving bribery and extortion involving large sums or similar types of intentional violations of ethics or anti-corruption laws.

Under the New York State Public Officers Law §74, violations of the Code of Ethics may result in fines or removal from office or employment with civil penalties not to exceed $10,000 and the value of any benefit received as a result of such violation.

While not considered likely at this point, serious violations of the New York State Criminal Code could be charged against Bramson by Rocah for crimes related to bribery, extortion, corrupting the government, and rewarding official misconduct.

Class A felonies
  • Bribery in the first degree (if bribery would result in arrest or prosecution, or value of the bribe is over $100,000.) N.Y. Penal Law § 200.04 & N.Y. Penal Law § 200.12.
  • Corrupting the government in the first degree. N.Y. Penal Law § 496.05. Maximum sentence of life imprisonment. N.Y. Penal Law § 70.00. Fine of no more than $100,000. N.Y. Penal Law § 80.00.
Class C felonies
  • Bribery in the second degree (value of bribe is over $5,000). N.Y. Penal Law § 200.03 & N.Y. Penal Law § 200.11.
  • Rewarding official misconduct in the first degree (if the benefit is for violating a duty relating to investigation, arrest, detention, prosecution, or incarceration of any person for a class A felony). N.Y. Penal Law § 200.22 & N.Y. Penal Law § 200.27.
  • Corrupting the government in the second degree. N.Y. Penal Law § 496.04.
  • Maximum sentence of 15 years. N.Y. Penal Law § 70.00. Fine of no more than $15,000. N.Y. Penal Law § 80.00.
Class D felonies
  • Bribery in the third degree. N.Y. Penal Law § 200.00 & N.Y. Penal Law § 200.10.
  • Corrupting the government in the third degree. N.Y. Penal Law § 496.03. Maximum sentence of 7 years. N.Y. Penal Law § 70.00.
Class E felonies
  • Rewarding official misconduct in the second degree. N.Y. Penal Law § 200.20 & N.Y. Penal Law § 200.25.
  • Corrupting the government in the fourth degree. N.Y. Penal Law § 496.02.
  • Maximum sentence of 4 years. N.Y. Penal Law § 70.00.
Class A misdemeanors
  • Official misconduct. N.Y. Penal Law § 195.00.
  • Unlawful gratuities. N.Y. Penal Law § 200.30 & N.Y. Penal Law § 200.35. Sentence of imprisonment not to exceed 1 year. N.Y. Penal Law § 70.15. Fine not to exceed $1,000. N.Y. Penal Law § 80.05.

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As Ethics Investigation into New Rochelle Mayor Moves Closer to a Final Report, a Shocking New Violation Has Emerged

New Rochelle Mayor Improperly Sought Appointment as Development Commissioner in Violation of City Charter

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New Rochelle Board of Ethics Complaint – Noam Bramson, et al.

Amendment to Ethics Complaint – Noam Bramson, et al.

Strome Memo to Bramson

ICMA Ethics Opinion

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