Bruce Ratner is a New York real estate developer and owner of the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association. For five years, he’s been trying to move the team to a new arena in Brooklyn that he hopes to build, relying on New York’s powers of eminent domain to move hundreds of homeowners and businessmen out of their quarters.
The Brooklyn arena project, known as Atlantic Yards, is on life support. It is only being kept alive by an investment of Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is reportedly worth more than $13 billion. He is investing $200 million with Ratner for a 85% ownership interest in the Nets, and a 45% interest in the $4.9 billion arena project, which includes residential and office towers.
NBA owners are expected to soon vote on approving Prokhorov’s ownership bid, but today’s New York Post spotlights Prokhorov’s business dealings in Zimbabwe, which is under economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union. According to the Post:
A New Jersey congressman says he will demand a government inquiry into Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire poised to buy the New Jersey Nets, for his extensive business dealings in Zimbabwe — a bombshell that could blow up the $200 million team deal and threaten the future of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards, The Post has learned.
Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, wants to know if companies controlled by Prokhorov in Zimbabwe violate federal rules that forbid American citizens and companies, and subsidiaries set up in the United States, from doing business with brutal strongman Robert Mugabe, his regime or associates.
In September 2008, Ratner gave ACORN a low-interest million-dollar loan and a $500,000 donation. ACORN had been a visible and enthusiastic backer of the Atlantic Yards project. The plan was for ACORN to market and select tenants for 2,000 units of affordable housing that ACORN demanded be part of the deal. With the collapse of ACORN’s national organization, and Ratner’s long history of failing to honor commitments on his projects, the status of ACORN’s involvement in Atlantic Yards is unclear.
Other controversies swirl around Ratner, who is the brother of radical lawyer Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights founded by William Kunstler.
Ratner has ties to the Queens politicians who are reeling from a federal investigation triggered by NLPC. They include Rep. Gregory Meeks and state Senator Malcolm Smith who both sat on the board of charter school Merrick Academy while Ratner was chairman. As chronicled in the New York Daily News, Merrick is a haven for inside dealing and political patronage.
Meeks and Smith are reportedly under investigation for their financial dealings, and those of nonprofits with which they are involved. NLPC exposed the possibility that a charity called New Direction Local Development Corporation raised money for Hurricane Katrina victims who never received the aid. NLPC filed a Complaint with the House Ethics Committee on March 19 against Meeks, alleging that he purchased a home for far less than it was worth. The Complaint detailed the role of a contractor named Robert Gaskin who did work for Queens politicians, and their nonprofits like Merrick, at the same time he was working on taxpayer-funded projects.
In February, Meeks led a Congressional delegation to Zimbabwe and praised Mugabe. According to allAfrica.com, Meeks said:
As you know, he is a great man and we look forward to continue working with him until we have a relationship that all of us want to have.
Ratner is also embroiled in another scandal involving elected officials and one of his mega-projects. According to the January 7, 2010 story in the New York Daily News:
Developer Bruce Ratner’s company agreed to hire the cousin of a former Yonkers councilwoman if the pol dropped her opposition to one of his major projects, prosecutors and other sources say.
The stunning conflict emerged in the indictment Wednesday of Yonkers Councilwoman Sandy Annabi and her cousin Zehy Jereis, a former Yonkers official.
Annabi, Jereis and a local lawyer were hit with multiple charges, brought by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, in a bribery and extortion scheme.
Ratner confirmed that his firm, Forest City Ratner, was the “Developer No. 2” named in the indictment. The project at issue was a huge residential/commercial project in Yonkers called Ridge Hill.
Ratner’s plans rely not only on Prokhorov’s investment but also on millions of dollars in tax breaks and a $400-million naming deal for the arena, to be known as Barclays Center. Barclays is Britain’s second largest bank. It seems like a variety of interests win if Ratner’s project is built. But they do not include ordinary Brooklynites, or the already-overextended American taxpayer.