The head of a lower Manhattan community garden is demanding the state attorney general and the city Conflicts of Interest Board probe plans to turn over valuable city land to a group of developers that includes a non-profit with strong ties to Mayor de Blasio.
The Brooklyn-based RiseBoro non-profit includes among its board members Frank Carone, who, campaign finance records show, has donated nearly $11,000 to de Blasio since 2011. Carone is also the chief lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
RiseBoro, formerly known as the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and once synonymous with the disgraced late Assemblyman Vito Lopez, is one of three entities slated to take over Elizabeth Street Garden in Nolita and convert it to 123 units of affordable housing.
The two other developers are Pennrose and Habitat for Humanity NYC. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development selected the team to take on the project, dubbed Haven Green, in Dec. 2017.
Joseph Reiver, the garden’s executive director, contends Carone’s connection to the mayor and his role at RiseBoro — he’s also chairman of the non-profit’s Audit Committee — creates, at the very least, the appearance of a sweetheart deal.
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A Brooklyn federal judge did not disclose she was colleagues with a lawyer in a politically-charged civil lawsuit over which she presided — raising potential ethics concerns.
Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall handled a suit filed by former Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Laura Jacobson against the Brooklyn Democratic Party, its leader Frank Seddio and its judicial screening committee.
Jacobson alleges she was railroaded out of her judicial seat and defamed by the party and its screening committee — in part because she ruled against the Kings County Democratic Committee’s chief lawyer Frank Carone in a 2014 case.
Hall and Carone served together on the city Taxi and Limousine Commission beginning in 2011, their online bios show. Judge Hall did not disclose that connection during the Jacobson legal proceedings, which began in 2016. Carone was not a defendant in Jacobson’s lawsuit.
“They would normally at least raise the issue,” Ronald Minkoff, a legal ethics professor at Columbia Law School, said of judges in such situations. “Is it something in a perfect world you would disclose? Yes. Is it something that matters? I don’t know.”
Minkoff said situations where relatives or close friends show up in lawsuits would be clear grounds for disclosure or recusal. A situation like Hall’s is more of a gray area, but Minkoff said judges often leave such situations for lawyers to decide.
Jacobson’s attorney Ravi Batra said it’s “too early to say” whether he would pursue an ethics complaint through the federal court system.
“While I’m more comfortable with it, my client is not,” Batra said of Hall presiding over the case. “I just wish there had been fuller disclosure so this would not even be an issue.”
Hall dismissed Jacobson’s lawsuit last September. Batra filed a notice of appeal the following month.
The complaint alleges that the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s judicial screening committee found Jacobson “not qualified” in order to push her from the bench over court decisions she made, including the one involving Carone.
Batra noted that this is not the first time ethics issues have arisen around Carone, a Brooklyn lawyer and a donor and friend to Mayor de Blasio.
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Appraisers question process NYC used to value properties before shelling out $173 million to shady landlords
Mayor de Blasio’s release of hundreds of pages of appraisal documents used in the city’s controversial $173 million purchase of 17 properties from two shady landlords has raised more questions than it has answered, appraisers who reviewed the records said.
The biggest irregularity, they said, is that BBG Inc., the appraiser hired by former owners Jay and Stuart Podolsky, submitted an unsigned, “restricted” draft estimate intended only for the client, not the buyer. But the buyer, the city in this case, received a copy of that appraisal.
“It’s inappropriate to use it, especially if you know someone other than the owner might have to rely on your report,” said Michael Vargas, president of the Vanderbilt Appraisal Company. He said the use of draft and “restricted” appraisals is frowned upon in the industry because it gives a client the ability to influence an appraisal.
“It’s a way for the client, the property owner, to control the process,” Vargas said. “It’s kind of like talking to the client and asking him, ‘Let me know if I should change the value to your liking.’”
Paula Konikoff, a lawyer and expert on appraisal standards, said the city should not have accepted an appraisal from the sellers without a signature because it carries little weight as an estimate. “Frankly, they should know better,” she said. “Why didn’t they bother to get the signed document?”
Eight appraisal estimates of the properties offered widely divergent assessments of their worth. One, conducted by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, set the total value at $49 million. Another, commissioned by the city Law Department and conducted by Metropolitan Valuation Services, estimated the value of the properties was $143 million. A third, conducted by the Podolsky firm of choice, BBG Inc., was done by appraiser Joel Leitner, who worked for BBG at the time and put the value at $200 million.
City Department of Finance tax records list the total value of the 17 properties at just over $40 million. City tax levies are based on that number. If the properties were worth millions more, as some of the appraisals suggest, it means the city may have taxed the owners too little for years. If the true value of the properties is around $49 million, as one appraisal suggested, the city paid far too much for them..
De Blasio spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg said the broad difference exists because the “valuations prepared by our independent appraiser were based on different assumptions than those used by DOF to annually assess all real property in the city.”
“DOF follows state law in valuing property and its assessments are based on current use. The independent appraisers valued the properties for acquisition purposes,” she said.
Even Leitner described it as “unusual” for anyone but the client to have a copy of such a draft appraisal.
“If my client asked me to give it to the city, I would have said no because it’s unsigned,” Leitner told the Daily News. “That should not be affecting the sales price,” he said, referring to the unsigned appraisal.
The Podolskys have a history of real estate woes in New York City. In 1986, they pleaded guilty to more than two dozen felonies in connection with their real estate holdings in Manhattan. They also allegedly covered up extensive fraud involved in acquiring the properties they are now selling to the city, several sources have told The News.
Last month, the city said it had finalized the deal to buy the 17 properties in the Bronx and Brooklyn used to house the homeless for $173 million. The city plans to convert the “cluster-site” apartments to permanent affordable housing.
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Vinny Parco’s lawyer claims the “Parco P.I.” star’s arrest was “timed as a thank-you gift to the Orthodox/Hasidic community.” (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)
Attorneys for an ex-reality-TV private investigator accused of trying to keep a woman from testifying against an Orthodox client of his charged with sexually assaulting her when she was 12 wants his court case moved from Brooklyn, claiming the Hasidic community has sway over justice in Kings County, the Daily News has learned.
Vinny Parco’s attorney Peter Gleason filed a change of venue motion Saturday and plans to bring it up in court Monday.
“It will be impossible for Mr. Parco to receive a fair trial [in Brooklyn],” Gleason wrote in court papers, citing an instance in which he said Parco had a run-in with the Orthodox community in Williamsburg while investigating community center owners who allegedly blocked an FDNY inspection.
According to court papers, when Parco, one-time star of the Court TV show “Parco P.I.,” tried to investigate the incident, men in Hasidic garb threatened to assault him and have him arrested, saying, “We know who you are and we have friends in the Kings County district attorney’s office.”
Parco, 67, is charged with promoting prostitution and unlawful surveillance for allegedly trying to blackmail the male relative of an Orthodox woman to keep her from testifying in a child sex abuse case against his client, Samuel Israel.
Accused co-conspirator Tanya Freudenthaler allegedly lured the man to a Sunset Park hotel in December 2016, where he was secretly recorded having sex with prostitutes she hired, prosecutors said.
Investigators accused Parco of trying to blackmail the man with the video. They said he accepted $17,000 from Israel, who is also Orthodox, to mastermind the hotel encounter.
Prosecutors said Israel concocted the plan with Parco because he didn’t want jurors in his trial to know that his alleged victim was only 12 years old when he sexually abused her in March 2016.
Israel pleaded guilty to charges of criminal sex act in the sex abuse case in December and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Gleason has claimed in prior court filings that Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez lodged charges against Parco to “thank” the Jewish community after winning the Democratic primary in 2017.
“Mr. Parco is a seasoned investigator who upon information and belief is being targeted to curry favor with the Satmar/Orthodox community, and among other things in retribution for his many previous investigations regarding the Satmar/Orthodox community,” Gleason charged in a recent court filing.
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