de Blasio engages criminal defense attorney, Barry Berke, for representation in Federal corruption probe


Despite saying on Monday that he was done taking questions about the reported Federal corruption investigation into his administration and saying on Tuesday that he had not yet engaged a criminal defense attorney, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) said on Wednesday that he had instructed an attorney to open discussions with the office of the corruption-busting prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The relentless pace of revelations about the reported wide-ranging Federal corruption investigation into the de Blasio administration had appeared manageable to Mayor de Blasio on Tuesday, but that changed after a report published by POLITICO New York noted that lawyers from U.S. Attorney Bharara’s office had joined a multi-office probe of the circumstances that led the de Blasio administration to approve the controversial luxury condominium conversion of Rivington House, a former AIDS nursing home. The approval process involved the lifting of deed restrictions that had previously acted to dedicate the use of the site for a nonprofit healthcare facility.

Adding to the sense of rapid escalation to the wide-ranging, Federal investigation, U.S. Attorney Bharara made public comments at a Tuesday evening gala dinner arranged by the government watchdog group, Common Cause/NY, indicating that his office was eyeing possible corruption investigations in the executive branches of municipal and state governments, signaling an expansion of his previous focus, which had heretofore been seen to be mainly targeting corruption in the legislative branches of government.

In announcing that he had engaged the attorney Barry Berke to meet head on any investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Mayor de Blasio was borrowing a page from the playbook of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York), who, when he faced the threat of a Federal corruption investigation, likewise engaged a criminal defense attorney, Elkan Abramowitz, in an effort to contain the potential damage caused by that Federal investigation. Eventually, U.S. Attorney Bharara conditionally cleared Gov. Cuomo of any wrong-doing in connection with the premature closure of the Moreland Commission.

Mr. Berke is a partner at the small (by New York standards) but powerful law firm, Kramer Levin, and he has previously acted as defense counsel to a portfolio manager at SAC Capital Advisors, who faced an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office over allegations of insider trading. In the past, Kramer Levin has acted as a lobbying firm on behalf of the real estate development giants, Tishman Speyer and Glenwood Management Corporation.

It is not yet known who will pay for the expensive legal fees generated by Mr. Berke’s representation of Mayor de Blasio. Requests to the City Hall press office and to Dan Levitan, the spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio’s official campaign committee, New Yorkers for de Blasio, did not immediately answer a request for information. In Gov. Cuomo’s case, his campaign committee footed the legal bill for his defense counsel and reportedly indemnified other potential state witnesses for their legal fees under a controversial arrangement.

Because of the unrelenting daily media reports about different aspects of the reported wide-ranging Federal corruption investigation into the de Blasio administration, Mayor de Blasio was on the defensive today at a press conference, where he complained that the office of U.S. Attorney Bharara was responsible for leaking information to the press about the investigation.

It is not known what evidence Mayor de Blasio has to make such an allegation. City Hall press officials did not provide any evidence requested by Progress Queens to substantiate Mayor de Blasio’s allegation, although, it was observed that, during the heat of the Federal investigation into reports that Gov. Cuomo or his aides had reportedly obstructed the work of the Moreland Commission, details about that investigation appeared in the press, including reference to a warning letter reportedly sent by the U.S. Attorney's Office to Gov. Cuomo.

For a recent report, journalists with The New York Times noted that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had visited the homes of several New York Police Department officers to question them about “trips, meals and other gifts they may have received” from businessmen with ties to Mayor de Blasio. That information was sourced to “several of the people briefed on the matter.” Assuming that the sources for information like this could only be Federal prosecutors ignores the possibility that the sources could also be the witnesses.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not answer a request made by Progress Queens to address the accusation made by Mayor de Blasio that Federal prosecutors were engaged in wrong-doing.

For his part, Mayor de Blasio has claimed that he had only limited involvement with the two businessmen at the center of one aspect of the Federal corruption investigation, Jonah Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg. In respect of the lifting of the deed restrictions to Rivington House and his administration's approval of its luxury condominium conversion, Mayor de Blasio has for weeks professed ignorance about that transaction. The lifting of the deed restrictions was conditioned on the payment of $16 million by the seller of Rivington House to the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services. The city agency has yet to account for how it has used that money.