The biggest developer in the borough — whose Atlantic Yards project is the biggest in Brooklyn history — is now linked to the biggest pay-to-play story in years.
Federal wiretaps show that a lobbyist for Forest City Ratner, which is building the Barclays Center arena as part of the 16-tower apartment and retail complex, paid hundreds of thousands in bribes to state Sen. Carl Kruger (D–Brighton Beach), the former Finance Committee powerhouse.
The lobbyist, Richard Lipsky, was charged by federal prosecutors with Kruger and several others last week, for his role in the scandal, which included funneling $252,000 to Kruger, who in turn provided state funding to projects being developed by Forest City and other clients.
No one from Forest City was indicated or charged — and it is unclear if the company knew what Lipsky was allegedly doing.
But Forest City Vice President Bruce Bender was caught on the federal wiretap negotiating with Kruger, who has steered millions in state money to the $4-billion project.
“I love you. I really do, actually,” Bender told Kruger on Dec. 28, 2010, after the senator pledged to allocate $4 million to the project, plus $500,000 for the Lakeside Center in Prospect Park.
Forest City isn’t officially involved in that project, which will restore several acres of parkland and replace the Wollman skating rink, but Bender’s wife is a member of the Prospect Park Alliance’s Board of Directors, and the couple lives in Park Slope.
Calls to the Alliance for comment were not returned. The New York Post reported that the Alliance has not received Kruger’s would-be donation and don’t expect it anytime soon now that Kruger’s been arrested. A member of the board of directors told the Post that Bender embarrassed the Alliance by hitting up Kruger for the cash.
“He has dragged our name through the mud,” the unnamed Alliance member said.
Bender had asked Kruger for much more, prosecutors say:
• $9 million in state money to replace the Carlton Avenue bridge, which was demolished as part of the arena construction.
• $2 million for the Four Sparrows Retail Center, which Forest City is developing in Mill Basin.
• $4 million for the Lakeside project.
That’s where the haggling began: Kruger told Bender he couldn’t have it all.
“Kruger told [Bender] that he had to choose what project he wanted to get done because [Bender] was asking for ‘about $12 million worth of projects’ and ‘they’re not all going to get done,’ ” the complaint states.
“The bridge is out,” Kruger told Bender. “There is $4 million in total. What do you want done?”
The news didn’t sit well with Bender.
“This is bad,” Bender said, asking Kruger to ask Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson for more money.
Kruger said there was no more money and asked Bender to put the bridge project of his mind — but in the casual way close friends often speak to each other.
“I guess the park, f—k the bridge,” Kruger said.
“I don’t mind f—king the bridge, [but] I can’t f—k it right now,” Bender said. “I need to leverage that bridge.”
Upon hearing that Lipsky was arrested, Forest City fired the 63-year-old lobbyist.
“Forest City Ratner Companies appears as an unnamed developer in the complaint because of [Lipsky’s] alleged activities and also because our head of Government Affairs had several conversations with the state Senator regarding two projects in Brooklyn,” said company spokesman Joe DePlasco. “The complaint in no way says or suggests that we behaved in an inappropriate manner.”
For years, Forest City has been paying Lipsky $4,000 a month to help line up legislative support for its many real estate development projects. Lipsky was paid an additional $2,750 a month to promote the Atlantic Yards project.