Federal investigation into de Blasio campaign finances may trace itself back to NY-CLASS

At a public event, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara explained that there is a compelling rationale for Federal law enforcement authorities to conduct years-long investigations. Source :  Progress Queens/Photo Illustration

At a public event, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara explained that there is a compelling rationale for Federal law enforcement authorities to conduct years-long investigations. Source :  Progress Queens/Photo Illustration

By LOUIS FLORES

On Monday, a report published by The New York Times appeared to refute the widely-reported impression that the wide-ranging Federal corruption investigation into the campaign finance activities of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) grew out of an investigation into alleged acts of quid pro quo by officers with the New York Police Department.

Instead, the report asserted, “several of the people briefed on the matter have said that the central focus of the inquiry has been on the fund-raising, and that the questions of police misconduct grew out of that.”

One way for that to be true would be if the investigation begun by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the animal rights group NY-CLASS, as first reported by Greg Smith in April 2014 for The New York Daily News, was never really closed.

The NY-CLASS investigation was reportedly initiated after questions were raised about whether the TV attack ads by a Super PAC, NYC Is Not For Sale, were intended to help Mayor de Blasio win the 2013 Democratic Party primary in exchange for a pledge Mayor de Blasio made as a candidate to satisfy a demand made by NY-CLASS that an end be brought about to the horse carriage industry. Other questions were raised about the source of the financing for those TV attack ads.

A spokesperson for the FBI refused to confirm whether the current investigation into the campaign finance activities of Mayor de Blasio could be traced back to the NY-CLASS investigation.

Media interest in the NY-CLASS investigation diminished after the first wave of sensational reports, published by The New York Daily News as part of a campaign to save the horse carriage industry, fizzled out.

The possibility that Federal law enforcement officials would conduct a years-long investigation is not without precedent. In fact, prior public comments by the nation’s top Federal prosecutor for New York’s southern district has confirmed this tactic, and those comments serve to provide some information about the thoughts, ideas, and considerations that Federal prosecutors face during the conduct of long-term investigations.

During questions and answers following a speech delivered on January 23, 2015, at New York Law School, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara defended his office’s decision not to publicly disclose that former Assemblymember Nelson Castro (D-The Bronx) had been under investigation and was coöperating with law enforcement officials whilst then Assemblymember Castro was actively campaigning for reelection.

An attendee of the speech, Richard Barr, had questioned U.S. Attorney Bharara about the negative consequence to voters, who were disenfranchised by the undisclosed legal circumstances surrounding former Assemblymember Castro.

In response to Mr. Barr’s question, U.S. Attorney Bharara said, in part, that, “We make decisions all the time about when to be overt in an investigation and when to remain covert, because we have sometimes competing principles and interests,” adding further, that, “We, all the time, get information about someone engaging in bad conduct, and, sometimes, it’s the case you can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. And so, you let it go on,” he said, referring to the bad conduct, adding that, “and you monitor it, and you make sure that people are not unduly harmed in the broader interest of trying to make sure you can gather and develop enough evidence, so that when it becomes public, that person doesn’t flee, that person doesn’t destroy evidence, and that person can be held accountable and put in prison for as long as is deserved.”

U.S. Attorney Bharara qualified his comments by saying that, “In addition to that, we’re not only just talking about that person, because, sometimes, it comes to light that someone is engaged in bad conduct, but he or she is not the only one, or he or she is at the bottom of the totem pole, and there are six other bad guys,” hypothetically speaking, adding that, “And, sometimes, with great care and sensitivity, you have to make judgment calls of how long you let something go on,” before saying that, “because, the goal is to hold responsible and to incapacitate as many people as possible, who are responsible for breaking the law.”

Speaking of his office’s development of its prosecution case against former Assemblymember Castro, U.S. Attorney Bharara said it was a “particularly difficult struggle, because, at the time, if I recall correctly, at the time the election was coming up, we did not have all the evidence with respect to other people, who engaged in bad conduct, and so it is a legitimate question as to whether or not we should have thrown up our hands and called it a day and exposed that person and then gone home, as opposed to letting it run a little longer, so a number of other, additional people, including another public official, could be charged and held accountable.”

In explaining his office’s position, U.S. Attorney Bharara added, in part, that “we thought long and hard about it.  So, for people, who disagree with the decision” to allow former Assemblymember Castro to run for reëlection while under investigation, “you should understand that we didn’t do it in a cavalier way or in a casual way. We thought about it a lot, because enfranchisement is important.”

The only fines assessed on NY-CLASS by the municipal campaign finance regulatory agency, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, as a consequence of its activities in the 2013 election cycle were handed down in December 2014, and those fines were limited to coördination between the animal rights group and the official campaign committees of New York City Councilmembers Mark Levine (D-West Harlem) and Laurie Cumbo (D-Prospect Heights), as noted in a report filed by Ross Barkan for The New York Observer. Other fines were assessed on the campaign committees of Councilmembers Levine and Cumbo, but those fines, too, had nothing to do with the activities or the finances of Mayor de Blasio’s campaign committee. Other unrelated fines were assessed on the campaign committee of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) and the lobbying firm, The Advance Group, for activities and finances that, likewise, had nothing to do with the Mayor de Blasio’s campaign committee.

Because NY-CLASS and other involved parties were never fined in connection with any activities or finances related to Mayor de Blasio’s campaign committee, those activities can still be considered open for investigation purposes and, if not those activities, then any activities related to any cover-up.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not confirm that the current Federal corruption investigation of Mayor de Blasio’s fundraising could be traced back to the reported FBI investigation of NY-CLASS, because the U.S. Attorney’s spokesman said, the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not confirm whether there was either a current Federal corruption investigation of Mayor de Blasio or a Federal investigation of NY-CLASS.