Home Courts Second developer pleads guilty to voting conspiracy in Sullivan County

Second developer pleads guilty to voting conspiracy in Sullivan County

Two out of three real estate developers accused of corrupting a Sullivan County village’s electoral process to advance their housing project have pleaded guilty.

Shalom Lamm, 57, of Bloomingburg, pleaded guilty on June 6 in federal court in White Plains to conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process.

Kenneth Nakdimen, 64, of Monsey, pleaded guilty to the same charge on May 25. Co-defendant Volvy “Zev” Smilowitz of Monroe awaits trial.

The corruption charge carries a 5-year maximum prison term. Lamm and Nakdimen are scheduled for sentencing in September.

The developers were accused of trying to take over Bloomingburg’s government so that they could not be stopped from creating a Hasidic Jewish enclave in the Sullivan County village and make hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the indictment.

They began buying land in 2006. Originally, they proposed building Chestnut Ridge, a 125-unit townhouse community with a golf course. After the village rezoned the property, they submitted plans that more than tripled the housing to 396 units and eliminated the golf course.

The developers had plans for several projects that could accommodate thousands of families, the government stated. They chose the village because its small population, 420 people, made the government vulnerable to a takeover.

By 2013, Chestnut Ridge construction had begun. But local opposition was growing and the village planning board was rejecting the developers’ proposals.

They decided to run a slate of candidates in the March 2014 election with the goal of replacing the planning board.

They recruited people to vote who did not live in town, had never set foot there and did not intend to live there, according to the indictment. They disguised the scheme by backdating apartment leases to make it look as though the impostors were eligible to vote. They staged apartments to look like they were occupied, opened bank accounts, submitted change-of-address forms and removed mail that had been delivered to the apartments.

None of their candidates won.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also charged Harold Baird, a former town supervisor in Mamakating, with conspiracy to submit false voter registrations. He did not live in Bloomingburg but registered to vote there and ran for a village trustee position in the 2014 election. He has pleaded guilty.

Smilowitz’s attorney, Justine Harris, said in December that the charges against her client are unfair and unwarranted.

“Mr. Smilowitz looks forward to his day in court.”

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