A real estate developer who federal prosecutors concede is a “good and decent man” was sentenced to prison for conspiracy to rig an election.
Judge Vincent Briccetti on Thursday sentenced Shalom Lamm, 58, of Bloomingburg, to 10 months in prison, one year of supervised release, 400 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine in U.S. District Court in White Plains.
Lamm’s goodness and decency were beside the point, prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. His qualities did “nothing to negate or counterbalance the harm he did by leading a criminal conspiracy so directly and destructively aimed at the foundation of society in Bloomingburg.”
Lamm and partner Kenneth Nakdimen wanted to create a “transformative development” for Hasidic Jews, according to an executive summary they circulated in 2013. They planned to build 5,000 to 7,000 units and they expected a profit of more than $336 million.
They chose New York’s smallest village, Bloomingburg, population 420, because they believed the Sullivan County town was vulnerable to a takeover.
Occupants of their first project, the 396-unit Chestnut Ridge townhouses, they predicted, would “effectively control the local government, its zoning and ordinances.”
They began buying land in 2006, and by 2013 construction of Chestnut Ridge had begun. But opposition was growing and the village planning board was rejecting their proposals.
The developers wanted to replace the planning board, so they ran a slate of candidates in the March 2014 village election.
They paid the leader of a Monsey yeshiva $30,000 a month to recruit voters, according to the government. They lined up people who did not live in town, had never set foot there and had no intention of living there.
They backdated leases to make it look as though the imposters were eligible to vote. They staged apartments to look like they were occupied. They bused in people to vote in the election.
Twenty-four people voted in the previous election. This time, 265 votes were cast. More than half of the ballots were challenged and ultimately voided. None of the developers’ candidates won.
Lamm and Nakdimen pleaded guilty to conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process. Nakdimen was sentenced in September to six months in prison. A third alleged conspirator, Volvy “Zev” Smilowitz, of Monroe, pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Lamm’s attorneys asked the court for leniency and recommended home confinement instead of prison.
Lamm had succumbed to a “perfect storm of events” that led him to “lose his otherwise good judgment.”
The perfect storm included a “war-like atmosphere” during the 2014 election that was fueled by virulent, anti-Hasidic animus, and by “hyper-aggressive advice” from an election lawyer and public affairs firm hired to manage the election campaign.
“Without that irresponsible advice from the professionals who ran the election campaign, his attorneys wrote, “it is clear that Mr. Lamm would never have crossed the line.”
While not excusing Lamm’s conduct, his lawyers argued that the circumstances explain how an otherwise good and decent man was led to and fell down “a slippery slope.”
Lamm’s sentencing memo also lists numerous deeds and testaments to his character. In the 1990s, for instance, he learned of a child in Ukraine who was suffering from a rare, likely fatal, congenital heart defect. Lamm arranged for the boy to get a complex, risky surgery in the United States, overcoming many obstacles along the way.
The boy, Sergij Kolensnikow, is now a man, 24, and a recent college graduate. He refers to Lamm as his second father.
“He has given me the gift of life,” he wrote in a letter to the court, “thanks to his extraordinary generous and charitable character.”
Lamm’s lawyers argued that his “remarkable good deeds over 40-plus years eclipse the wrongdoing for which he faces sentencing.”
Prosecutors recommended 12 to 18 months in prison.
The “perfect storm” that befell Lamm, assistant U.S. attorneys argued, was weather of his own making.
His criminal conduct “was not an isolated lapse in judgement or character,” they wrote. It took place over months and involved coordinating the efforts of many co-conspirators.
“Lamm did not extend his decency and respect to the people of Bloomingburg,” the government says. He secretly tried to transform a village to make a profit for himself, and he attributes opposition to his project to religious animus.
When his plans came to light, “he tried to rig the election.”
Lamm’s crime demonstrates a “callous disregard for the townspeople of Bloomingburg,” prosecutors said, and his treatment of the villagers “is completely reprehensible.”