18 months after a FOIL Request was filed, DCAS releases some Rivington House documents to Progress Queens

The de Blasio administration released only 258 pages of records, even though one press report has indicated that thousands of pages of records exist.

By LOUIS FLORES

The Municipal agency at the center of a controversy that led to several concurrent corruption investigations has finally produced records to Progress Queens over 18 months after an open records request was filed with the agency. The de Blasio administration has released, on behalf of the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services, 258 pages of documents in response to a request made under the State's Freedom of Information Law, seeking records of about the luxury condominium conversion plan for Rivington House, a former AIDS hospice in the Lower East Side.

Controversy erupted over Government approvals that were granted to the former owner of Rivington House after a report was published by The Wall Street Journal on 22 March 2016. Days later, a subsequent report, also published by The Wall Street Journal, raised questions about the role of a lobbyist on the real estate transaction, James Capalino, who has enjoyed close ties to the de Blasio administration. Over time, Mr. Capalino's lobbying firm came to represent each of the seller and an affiliate of the buyer of Rivington House. Law enforcement scrutiny and subsequent public outry over conflicts of interest led the chief Municipal investigator, Mark Peters, to recuse himself from Municipal investigations possibly targeting the de Blasio administration and the mayor's 2013 committee to elect. Mr. Peters had served as the committee to elect's treasurer, a role where Mr. Peters would have had to approve, to some degree, the acceptance of campaign contributions made or bundled by lobbyists, including by Mr. Capalino. Contributing to the public outcry was a report published in 2016 by The New York Daily News, which revealed that Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter had withheld and redacted documents in connection with the luxury condominium conversion of Rivington House. Documents about the Rivington House transaction were the subject of investigation by many law enforcement agencies and the target of many FOIL Requests filed by the media, including by Progress Queens. Mr. Carter was formerly a U.S. Attorney of the Brooklyn Federal prosecutors' office.

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In a 2016 report published by The New York Post, it was revealed that the Municipal legal department headed by Corporation Counsel Carter had withheld thousands of pages of documents from the office of Investigation Commissioner Peters. If thousands of pages of documents are known to exist about the Rivington House transaction, the de Blasio administration did not explain why it was only releasing 258 pages of records to Progress Queens. Moreover, that 2016 report in The New York Post identified an e-mail, dated 23 July 2014 and addressed to former Citywide Services Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch. That e-mail proved controversial, because it revealed that the de Blasio administration was aware that the sellers or buyers of Rivington House were considering condominiums for the site, according to The New York Post. That e-mail was not included by the de Blasio administration in the release of records made available to Progress Queens. The FOIL Request made by Progress Queens demanded records about Rivington House that were reportedly the subject of a subpoena filed by the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer (D-New York City).

The City Hall press office, including spokesperson Jessica Ramos, did not answer several advance questions submitted by Progress Queens for this report, including whether the de Blasio administration waited until the release of these records would not create any political consequence for the mayor relative to the recently-concluded, September Democratic Party primary election.

Other acts of bad faith and possible violations of FOIL committed by the de Blasio administration in the processing of the FOIL Request included the fact that other news media appeared to have been provided with documents about the Rivington House transaction in early 2016, not long after Progress Queens filed its FOIL Request. Despite several requests, the de Blasio administration never answered questions posed by Progress Queens about the use of the $16 million payment that the seller of Rivington House paid to win Government approvals to allow for the flipping of Rivington House into the hands of developers with plans for the luxury condo conversion.

The wide-ranging, Federal and Municipal corruption investigations into the de Blasio administration, that, at times, were reported to have been focused on the Rivington House transaction, ended without the filing of any criminal charges. Upon the revelation that no charges would be filed, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim announced in a statement, in relevant part, that, "Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors." It was not clear whether Federal prosecutors, for their part, considered the seeking of official favors as lawful, or whether Federal prosecutors could not prove criminality that would withstand legal scrutiny in a Court of Law.

As previously reported by Progress Queens, Federal prosecutors have a history of refusing to challenge corruptly-negotiated real estate contracts, despite the existence of questions about fraud in the inducement or inception of such contracts.

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