Guest Post: On the Criminal Investigation of a New Rochelle Development Project

Who benefits?

Guest Post: On the Criminal Investigation of a New Rochelle Development Project

NEW ROCHELLE, NY (May 8, 2023) — Last week’s lengthy article on the massive ongoing housing construction going on in downtown New Rochelle refers to my suggestion that we slow down the process a bit and evaluate who has benefited thus far and who has borne the brunt of the financial, environmental and social costs. In speaking with New Rochelle residents lately, I make a point of my belief that the developers have not been adequately held to certain commitments in exchange for huge tax abatements and other government-issued benefits. In particular, I speak of the need for more aggressive recruitment and placement of local youth in apprenticeship programs at job sites as the path to construction trade careers at middle-class wages. The best apprenticeship programs are run by labor unions.

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On the question of transparent and comprehensible information on who has been burdened and who has benefited (“cui bono”) from development to date, I have recently turned to the wisdom in a current item posted in the NewRoAR News, which you may click on here. The question raised in its most unvarnished form is, Where is all the money---whether in the form of federal tax low-income tax credits or housing choice vouchers ("Section 8"), NYS low-interest finance, tax abatements granted by the City's Industrial Development Agency or outright grants of millions of dollars by the County---going?

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg announces indictments involving contractors operating in New Rochelle
Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg announces indictments involving contractors operating in New Rochelle

Well, it turns out that, according to an indictment unveiled a week ago by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, a large chunk of it went to some of the most brazenly venal and thieving miscreants in our midst. The indictment reveals numerous recordings of the principal perpetrator, 82-year-old Lawrence Wecker of the tony Sutton Place neighborhood in Manhattan, who operates a drywalling business that "specializes in buildings with affordable housing units" throughout the tri-state area. The indictment sets forth a breathtaking tale of greed, with all the old-school elements of bribery, bid-rigging, money laundering, and theft from clients and subcontractors and suppliers, now enhanced by the more contemporary schemes of fake minority/women owned businesses and the exploitation of hundreds of non-union immigrant workers with substandard wages, no provision for health, disability, or even workers comp on high-rise construction, one of the world's most dangerous jobs.

10 LeCount Place a/k/a "The Stella"
10 LeCount Place a/k/a "The Stella"

One of those jobs sites is in New Rochelle. During construction, it was called "14 LeCount Place," but it is now officially 10 LeCount Place, a/k/a "The Stella." At the County Board of Legislators, we authorized putting close to $5 Million into this project to incentivize the developer to set aside 25% of the units in the building as Affordable Housing at rental rates considerably lower than those usually branded "affordable" by our City and nearly all other municipalities. (Also, the City of New Rochelle gave huge tax breaks to the property.) It should go without saying, but is indeed documented in reams of paperwork, that contractors and subcontractors on these jobs must comply with all pertinent laws, including MWBE regulations, wage and safety law, etc., etc., etc. But the indictment quotes a tape of Wecker, after a Stella project worker suffered a severe laceration to his arm and was treated at a local ER, as saying: "Say he got cut at home and get the bill." Later, Wecker is caught on tape responding to a request for cash for missed work days that the injured worker was having due to the injury: "Get the f—k outta here."

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BTW, if you go to the DA's link to the indictment online, put the F-word and variations thereon into your search function to get the full flavor of Mr. Wecker's misanthropy.

And pardon his French.


All of this begs the question, who will watch the watchmen?

I did a five-minute search on the internet and found this 2000 NY Times article, describing Wecker's prior run-ins with the law for similar activity going back as far as 1986. Another five minutes of web-surfing yielded a 1989 Village Voice article linking him to the notorious Vinnie the Chin Gigante and nefarious activities stretching back into the 1970s. So, apparently Wecker is a long-time associate of the Genovese and Lucchesi crime families! How does this guy get even close to projects involving taxpayer funds??

I want to get our taxpayer money clawed back from this project. I am happy to be joined in this by New Rochelle City Manager Kathleen Gill who has hired a former New York State Inspector General, to review all the City’s IDA-funded projects to ensure compliance with all IDA requirements and applicable laws and, if warranted by the facts, pursue recapture of all IDA benefits. The County government needs to follow suit.

Furthermore, I want to find out if we have a mechanism for making sure that the Larry Weckers of the world don't get on these projects in the first place. And that we have a schedule of adequate, on-site audits of payroll and MWBE certifications. And that we have a clear and functioning chain of command on these duties so that we truly have someone "watching the watchers."

Damon Maher is an attorney, member of the Westchester County Board of Legislators and Candidate for Mayor of New Rochelle.

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