Admonished by Department of Investigation and Fined by the Conflicts of Interest Board, Former Taxi Commission Council Igor Oberman Awaits Review by Campaign Finance Board
By LOUIS FLORES
Igor Oberman, a former counsel at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, was fined $7,500 last month by the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board after an investigation conducted last year by the New York City Department of Investigation found that Mr. Oberman wrongly used his office at the Taxi Commission to run as a candidate for the New York City Council.
Joseph Gaba, an attorney, who represented Mr. Oberman in the time leading up to the final disposition of the Conflicts of Interest Board investigation, did not answer questions on behalf of his client.
In calculating the fine of $7,500, the Conflicts of Interest Board considered three main factors : (i) that Mr. Oberman would not accept responsibility for his actions, (ii) that, as an attorney, Mr. Oberman was seen by the Conflicts of Interest Board as part of a class of city employees, who should be held to a higher ethical standard, and (iii) that Mr. Oberman chose to ignore advice provided to him by telephone and in writing from the Conflicts of Interest Board and a Taxi Commission ethics attorney about the rules that forbade city employees from using their offices for campaign work. Mr. Oberman's conduct was found to have violated Charter Section 2604(b)(2), the Conflicts of Interest Board ruled.
Mr. Oberman's use of his Taxi Commission office including making phone calls ; downloading to, editing from, and maintaining campaign-related documents on his office computer ; and, reportedly, raising money from his office. Information from the Department of Investigation showed that investigators concluded that Mr. Oberman may have raised over $40,000 by using his office phone at the Taxi Commission. According to the final disposition documents in Mr. Oberman's case before the Conflicts of Interest Board, Mr. Oberman made "numerous uncontested calls" to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, the New York State Board of Elections, the New York City Board of Elections, as well as to consultants, campaign workers and vendors, political groups, and city and state office candidates, who "were most likely related" to Mr. Oberman's campaign.
A redacted 2013 letter report from Robert Gigante, an inspector general with the Department of Investigation, to David Yassky, the commissioner of the Taxi Commission, alluded to the fact that Mr. Oberman was confident in using public resources to campaign for the City Council in 2013, because Mr. Oberman "cited his relationship with Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz as a reason why Commissioner Yassky would not discipline him for such conduct."
Mr. Oberman refused to provide voluntary testimony to the Department of Investigation in 2013, at one point stalling, because Mr. Oberman "had not yet decided whether or not to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination," it was further stated in the redacted 2013 letter report.
The Department of Investigation and the Conflicts of Interest Board both raised questions about work that Mr. Oberman claimed he did on behalf of Trump Village, a coöp for which Mr. Oberman served as board president. Mr. Oberman retained the same consulting firm, The Advance Group, to both manage his political campaign and to lobby on behalf of Trump Village. The Advance Group was paid nearly $73,100 for campaign consulting and $45,000 for lobbying services, according to records. Mr. Oberman took a leave of absence from the Taxi Commission on April 23, 2013, and the lobbying contract commenced on April 1, 2013. The Democratic Party primary election took place on Sept. 10, 2013, which Mr. Oberman lost, and the lobbying contract was set to end on Sept. 30, 2013. The Conflicts of Interest Board noted that Mr. Oberman "failed to provide any documentation showing that Advance Group was also working on a Trump Village project during this period."
The Advance Group is a controversial consulting firm that provides both campaign and lobbying work, duplicity that has worried good government groups for years. In the 2013 mayoral campaign, The Advance Group advised a group, NY-CLASS, and the campaigns of two other New York City candidates, where the Campaign Finance Board found prohibited coördination, resulting in fines. For providing unpaid consulting services to Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito during her successful speakership campaign and for possibly coördinating other electioneering work, The Advance Group was the subject of a complaint filed with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan. The business publication, Crain's New York Business, has published numerous reports about controversies involving The Advance Group, including the use of an alternate business name to represent a Super PAC, which, in turn, made contributions to political campaign committees also being advised by The Advance Group.
An attorney at the Conflicts of Interest Board refused to comment about any communication the Conflicts of Interest Board has had with the Campaign Finance Board. Representatives with the city's Campaign Finance Board did not immediately answer a request for comment.