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FBI Storms Sullivan County Town Amid Fears Developer Is Taking It Over

BLOOMINGBURG, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- The struggle for control of a small town in Sullivan County has drawn the attention of federal agents.

As CBS 2's Lou Young reported Friday, newcomers have been pitted against longtime residents of the village of Bloomingburg, in what is now a voter fraud investigation.

Some residents of the village at the edge of the Catskills welcomed the FBI agents who poured in on Thursday. One resident took photos as more than 40 agents raided over a dozen locations -- the offices and property of developer Shalom Lamm.

"We were hoping to get, you know, things investigated, and maybe it's finally happening," said Bloomingburg resident Teek Persuad.

They are worried about a takeover of the village, beginning with Lamm's controversial townhouse project that is currently under a court challenge. The project would triple the population in the town.

Meanwhile, numerous building renovations started without permits have been ordered stopped, and a series of rental properties also owned by Lamm, have led to a sudden flurry of voter registrations in the last month – right before an election last week.

"You have to be a resident to vote," said attorney Jonathan Chase. "You don't vote and then become a resident.

"These people don't actually live here," said resident and development Jim O'Shea. "They move in on the weekend, and then they go back to wherever they come from."

The people whom O'Shea was talking about are all Hasidic or ultra-Orthodox Jews, and critics have said the sudden property purchases and development seem designed to turn Bloomingburg into a religious enclave like some others closer to the city in Rockland County.

An attorney for Lamm acknowledged the voter fraud investigation.

"The FBI is reviewing allegations, and they are only allegations," said the statement from attorney Joel Cohen. "When the dust settles, the investigation by the authorities will have uncovered no wrongdoing."

The developer's opponents have been choosing their words carefully; in fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. They insisted the real issues are fairness and legality.

"It's not about who's going to live there," said resident Jim Danzesen. "It's about the number of people that are going to live there, and the slyness that was done."

Voters in Bloomingburg – whoever they are – go to the polls next Tuesday. A state court in Monticello this week ruled that any challenged votes cast in the election next week have to be sequestered until a judge can decide their validity.

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