WEEK IN REVIEW : Investigation report claims de Blasio administration obstructed release of Rivington documents

  • The New York City Law Department blocked the release of documents to the New York City Department of Investigation

  • The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services is dragging its feet in responding to a FOIL request filed by Progress Queens

By LOUIS FLORES

A report released by the New York City Department of Investigation about the de Blasio administration's handling of the lifting of deed restrictions at the former AIDS hospice center, Rivington House, was loaded with findings of wrong-doing by City Hall.

The findings of wrong-doing included acts by the New York City Law Department, formerly known as the Office of Corporation Counsel, of obstructing the probe by the City's Department of Investigation, or DOI, according to the report.

"… DOI found that City Hall knew or should have known that both parts of the deed restriction were being lifted prior to the sale. DOI also found that while representations had been made to the City suggesting that Rivington would continue to be used as a nursing home, several City employees knew the property owner considered selling the property for conversion to luxury housing. In addition, senior City officials knew or should have known that the lifting of the deed restriction would allow the buyers of the property to legally use the building for any purpose, including luxury housing.

"DOI’s investigation further revealed a complete lack of accountability within City government regarding deed restriction removals and significant communication failures between and within City Hall and DCAS.

"Moreover, DOI’s investigation was hindered by the Law Department, which impeded DOI’s access to documents and computers."

Real estate developers and their lobbyists had been trying for years to lift deed restrictions on Rivington House in order to facilitate its conversion to free-market housing.

The DOI report made further notable mention of the obstructive efforts by the City's Law Department in limiting the documentation reviewed by municipal investigators :

"Finally, throughout this investigation, DOI encountered a lack of cooperation from Law. DOI, by Executive Order (EO), has unrestricted access to City documents and computers. Here, Law insisted on screening documents and information DOI needed for its investigation. This resulted in undue delays and the failure to produce potentially relevant information.

"Because DOI did not receive a full production of what it requested, it is unclear what Rivington-related information remains on the City Hall servers and computers, to which DOI was denied access."

Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) has denied knowing in advance of any effort by owners or lobbyists associated with Rivington House to seek the lifting of deed restrictions in order to convert the one-time nonprofit healthcare complex into luxury condominiums. However, the DOI report noted that First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris forwarded an e-mail to Mayor de Blasio on 3 August 2014 regarding Rivington House.

Department of Citywide Administrative Services still improbably stalling for time to respond to FOIL request

On 25 March, Progress Queens filed a request under the State's Freedom of Information Law with the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services seeking documents related to the lifting of the deed restrictions. As of 05 July, Alan Deutsch, senior counsel at the City's Department of Citywide Administrative Services, asserted that responsive documents were still being reviewed, despite the fact that DOI attached relevant documents, sometimes heavily redacted, in appendices to its report. Progress Queens has questioned the delay, given the dissemination of what could be considered responsive documents, which have been acknowledged to exist and moreover described in detail in widespread news reports.

The DOI report, released on le quatorze juillet, otherwise known as Bastille Day in France, failed to lead to a storming of City Hall, despite the report's findings that City Hall knew that a politically-connected lobbyist was orchestrating the taking of strategic public assets for private financial gain by luxury real estate development speculators.

Potential wrong-doing in the lifting of the deed restrictions at Rivington House were first noted in a report published by The Wall Street Journal on 22 March. Since then, a series of revelations have indicated that James Capalino, a contribution bundler to the various campaign committees that fund the electoral runs by and politics of Mayor de Blasio, represented at different points in time a seller of Rivington House and an affiliate of the ultimate buyer. At the time when First Deputy Mayor Shorris reportedly forwarded an e-mail to Mayor de Blasio about Rivington House, Mr. Capalino was representing the then-owner of the nursing home.

Mr. Capalino formerly served as commissioner of a forerunner of the municipal agency in charge of lifting deed restrictions, the City's Department of Citywide Administrative Services, during the administration of then Mayor Ed Koch (D-New York), giving Mr. Capalino an inside track to City processes, on top of his political connections, given his campaign contribution bundling.

The administration of Mayor de Blasio is reportedly the target of municipal, State, and Federal investigations examining whether administration officials have reportedly granted official acts to key political and campaign supporters, particularly those with ties to the real estate development industry.

The DOI report stopped short of recommending criminal prosecution of the de Blasio administration, despite the report's findings of misconduct. Nevertheless, prosecutors reportedly remain probing the Rivington House sale. DOI is headed by Commissioner Mark Peters, the former treasurer of the campaign committee that funded Mayor de Blasio's 2013 election. After a public outcry about the potential for conflicts of interest, Commissioner Peters recused himself from the Rivington House investigation. Despite the limitations of the DOI report, prosecutors, including those with each of the Office of the State Attorney General and the U.S Attorney's Office for New York's southern district, reportedly remain actively investigating the Rivington House sale, according to news reports.

Rivington House formerly served the community of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and community leaders and residents have demanded that the de Blasio administration make the community whole by restoring nursing home or supporting housing equivalent to what was lost by the sale of Rivington House, according to a report filed by Allegra Hobbs for the news Web site, DNAinfo New York.

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