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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He’s late — again.
After nearly half a year of hemming and hawing, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday entered the 2020 presidential race, becoming the 23rd Democrat to join the jam-packed field.
The termed-out politician, known for his habitual tardiness, finally decided to run after five months of toying with a White House bid.
“I’m Bill de Blasio and I’m running for president because it’s time we put working people first,” the mayor said in a three-minute YouTube videoannouncing his candidacy.
The opening shots include de Blasio zipping around the city in the back of an SUV — his gas-guzzling choice of transportation for the 11-mile jaunt from Gracie Mansion to the gym in Park Slope.
“Good thing about New Yorkers is they look the same whether they’re really pissed off at you or they like you,” the mayor quips.
He details his “Working People First” slogan by touting his policy initiatives including pre-K for all, paid sick leave and boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
First lady Chirlane McCray also makes an appearance to briefly plug her mental health agenda.
“Everything begins with being healthy and there is no health without mental health,” she says.
Then, as the White House flashes on the screen to dramatic music, de Blasio pivots to a national message.
“Don’t back down in the face of the bully — take him on,” he says. “As president, I will take on the wealthy, I will take on the big corporations, I will not rest until this government serves working people.”
He also vows to fight President Trump head-on.
“Donald Trump must be stopped. I’ve beaten him before and I’ll do it again,” de Blasio says.
Insiders initially thought de Blasio would announce his national campaign the week of his 58th birthday on May 8, but he delayed.
“So you’re still deciding?” NY1’s Errol Louis asked the mayor on May 6.
“Yes indeed,” the dithering mayor said.
Local political experts can’t fathom what prompted the mayor to take the plunge.
“It’s really hard to understand what lane de Blasio plans to ride to the nomination,” said David Birdsell, dean of the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at CUNY’s Baruch College.
What’s more, people just don’t like him, polls show.
De Blasio has the dubious distinction of being the only candidate or potential candidate out of 23 contenders to earn a negative rating among national Democrats in a March Monmouth University survey. A total of 24 percent gave him a thumbs down while just 18 percent had a favorable view of him.
At home, the numbers are even worse. A staggering 76 percent of Big Apple voters don’t think he should run, according to an April Quinnipiac University Poll.
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If New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joins the gaggle of Democrats running for president, he will stand out as the only one who flouted federal law so often and so flagrantly that prosecutors felt compelled to publicly explain why they had not gone ahead and locked him up.
The March 2017 statement by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan announced:
“We have conducted a thorough investigation into several circumstances in which 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,” the statement reported.
Note the absence of the word “alleged.”
The pay-to-play operation—which involved everything from a contract for mint-scented, rat-resistant trash bags to multimillion-dollar real estate deals—is stated as fact. The statement goes on to explain why the prosecutor had decided “not to bring federal criminal charges against the Mayor or those acting on his behalf.”
“In considering whether to charge individuals with serious public corruption crimes, we take into account, among other things, the high burden of proof, the clarity of existing law, any recent changes in the law, and the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit,” it says.
Those “changes in the law” included a U.S Supreme Court decision in June of the year before, which vacated the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who had accepted a $175,000 loan and various gifts from a dietary supplement manufacturer that sought state assistance in testing and marketing his product.
The decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who explained: “There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption.”
In short, just arranging a meeting in exchange for a gift does not constitute corruption under the more narrow definition. The accused must have performed an official act such as can be placed on an agenda or memorialized in the record.
That narrower definition of corruption came when the feds in New York were eight months into investigating de Blasio. They felt they were well on the way to making a case.
“The government was lusting, lusting to get de Blasio,” an attorney for a big donor who was repeatedly questioned by the feds told The Daily Beast.
But in instances such as the mint-scented rat-repellent trash bags, de Blasio had simply granted a meeting with parks department officials and facilitated a field test.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio is personally soliciting donations for his political action committee – reaping money from sources that include individuals seeking favorable treatment from his administration, an investigation by THE CITY found.
The revelations about de Blasio’s Fairness PAC – which he’s using, in part, to pay for travels exploring a presidential bid – followed the city Department of Investigation’s finding he broke city ethics rules in a previous fundraising campaign.
Mike Casca, a Fairness PAC spokesperson, confirmed the mayor is personally seeking donations for the group. Each donor’s name is run through the city’s database of entities doing business with City Hall, said Casca, adding the PAC won’t accept a check from anybody on the list.
But the so-called Doing Business database, which includes only top executives involved in certain transactions, is hardly complete.
A basic search of other databases – including the list of lobbyists – revealed multiple examples of donors who were pressing de Blasio’s team on active projects while writing checks to his PAC, THE CITY found.
Meanwhile, the mayor is working the phones.
His public schedule for August through December shows a total of 125 hours dedicated to fundraising phone calls. His “Call Time” included 38.5 hours in August, 25 hours in September and 38 hours in October. It’s unclear how much of this time was dedicated to Fairness PAC fundraising.
Casca said the “mayor voluntarily set out a strict standard” in declining donations from entities in the Doing Business database, and criticized the examples uncovered by THE CITY as overly broad.
But Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of the government reform group Citizens Union, said the mayor and his Fairness PAC need to be more vigilant in assessing potential donors.
“They should be extremely careful not to ask anybody – or to double-check to make sure people are not – doing business or trying to get business with the city,” said Gotbaum, a former city public advocate. “[The mayor] should not be asking them.”
Transparency Issues on Conflicts Guidance
A DOI report filed in October concluded de Blasio had violated city conflict-of-interest rules by personally soliciting donations for his now-defunct non-profit Campaign for One New York from entities with business pending before the executive branch.
DOI found the mayor had twice been warned not to do that – and detailed his pursuit of checks from several developers who, at the time, were pursuing favorable treatment from City Hall.
With Campaign for One New York, the mayor released a letter he got from the city Conflicts of Interest Board spelling out the rules for his fundraising.
With Fairness PAC, the group’s lawyers sought unspecified “advice” from COIB, but Casca declined to provide details.
Casca said only that the PAC’s lawyers did not ask about fundraising because they believed that was covered by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Federal Election Commission. They “did seek other advice,” which he wouldn’t describe, and dubbed COIB’s guidance to the Fairness PAC as “privileged communications.”
THE CITY reported last week that Campaign for One New York is the subject of an ongoing Joint Commission on Public Ethics probe.
Questions on Vetting Process
A key finding of DOI’s report on de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York fundraising was the group’s failure to adequately check potential donors to see whether they had business with City Hall. In the first three months, during which de Blasio raised $1.37 million, DOI found there was no vetting process.
The vetting procedures for Fairness PAC, which raised $470,000 through the end of 2018, appear far from comprehensive.
THE CITY easily found multiple Fairness PAC donors who – at the same time they were writing checks for the mayor – had lobbyists on retainer pressing City Hall for agency approvals related to their projects, including zoning changes and tax breaks.
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De Blasio won’t face federal, state charges in fundraising probe
Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t be facing federal or state criminal charges for fundraising activities tied to his now defunct Campaign for One New York, officials announced on Thursday.
“After careful deliberation, given the totality of the circumstances here and absent additional evidence, we do not intend to bring federal criminal charges against the Mayor or those acting on his behalf relating to the fundraising efforts in question,” acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim announced on Thursday.
The investigations hinged on whether de Blasio solicited donations from developers and others who had business before the city in exchange for political favors. In October, the New York Time’s reported that Jona Rechnitz, the real estate developer at the center of the NYPD corruption scandal, was cooperating with authorities. The mayor was accused of giving a retired police official a high-level position in his administration after Rechnitz called him and requested the appointment as a “personal favor.” The federal investigation was conducted by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office led the state probe.
In his announcement, District Attorney Cyrus Vance stated that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the mayor violated state election laws in his efforts to help Democrats take over the Republican-controlled state Senate. The investigation focused on whether he wrongfully sidestepped contribution limits to individual candidates by directing donations to upstate county committees. Vance said, however, that the actions “appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws that impose candidate contribution limits.”
Kim noted the unusual nature of announcing that his office wouldn’t pursue criminal charges, saying that, in this case, it was appropriate to not “unduly influence the upcoming campaign and Mayoral election.” The announcement comes just a few days after President Donald Trump fired Preet Bharara from his post as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The decision not to prosecute clears what was a black cloud over the mayor’s re-election campaign. It remains to be seen if potential Democratic challengers who were waiting on the sidelines as the investigation dragged on will now step aside. Meanwhile, Republican mayoral candidate and Cushman & Wakefield executive Paul Massey announced Wednesday that he raised twice as much as de Blasio since Jan. 12.
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It might be about time for William Valentin to have his day in Court.
We have reported on Valentin and his attempts at proving Seabrook’s improprieties with respect to irresponsible investments in Platinum and the potential that Seabrook was earning some form of compensation for for these investments. We had little doubt that Valentin was correct in his conclusions, despite having his case tossed out of court. It is our hope that he will finally be vindicated. We have posted an article below with some information on the Valentin case.
LostMessiah, June 8, 2016
Chief of New York Jail Officers’ Union Is Arrested on Fraud Charges
The 17-page complaint, sworn out by F.B.I. Special Agent Blaire Toleman, charges both men with one count of honest services fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
Lawyers for the two men could not be immediately reached for comment; a spokesman for Mr. Seabrook said the union president had no immediate comment.
The relationship between the mayor and Mr. Seabrook has been close in the past. At a 2014 fund-raiser for a union charity, Mr. de Blasio referred to Mr. Seabrook as a “friend” and a “great leader.” But Mr. Seabrook has also been one of the fiercest critics of the mayor’s reform efforts at Rikers Island.
The accusations do not involve Mr. de Blasio or any of the possible improprieties that are under scrutiny in more than half a dozen inquiriesswirling around the mayor and his aides. However, the role in the case of Mr. Rechnitz, a donor who has given more than $150,000 to causes supported by the mayor, is notable. He served as an intermediary, introducing Mr. Seabrook to Mr. Huberfeld to facilitate the union’s investment in Platinum Partners.
Mr. Huberfeld, through Mr. Rechnitz, paid an initial kickback to Mr. Seabrook of $60,000, the complaint said, noting that “ultimately Huberfeld agreed to pay Seabrook bribes that were expected to total hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The complaint does not name Mr. Rechnitz, referring to him instead as cooperating witness No. 1. It says that the information he has provided has been “reliable and corroborated by independent evidence.”
A lawyer for Mr. Rechnitz, Alan Levine, declined to comment.
The government’s interest in Mr. Seabrook and his relationship with Platinum Partners dates back roughly two years and was reported by The New York Times last June.
William Valentin, a correction officer who was forced off the executive board when he mounted a challenge for the union presidency, alleged that Mr. Seabrook had invested millions of dollars in the hedge fund without consulting the board.
Mr. Seabrook acknowledged the investment in an affidavit for a lawsuit, but declined to identify the fund and gave contradictory statements about how much the union earned from it. At one point, he said the return was $475,000 in three months; but the union’s audited financial statements listed a $47,529 return.
Mr. Huberfeld was convicted of fraud in 1993 for arranging for another party to take a brokerage licensing exam under his name. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to two years of probation. In a separate case, in 1998, Mr. Huberfeld and a partner paid $4.6 million to settle a civil action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission that alleged bank fraud.
Mr. Rechnitz’s involvement was reported in April by The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Seabrook, who favors finely tailored suits and cigars and is chauffeured around the city in black S.U.V.s, has come to exert extraordinary control over the Correction Department.
Over the years, Mr. Seabrook has been sued by current and former union employees, who have leveled allegations ranging from corruption to sexual harassment. He has withstood them all.