City probe reveals that top officials in de Blasio’s administration were involved in the shady deal to turn a Lower East Side nursing home into luxury condos, but the mayor maintains that he had no knowledge of the plans.
157-page report by the Department of Investigation says, “City Hall knew or should have known it would be possible to use the property for any purpose if the deed restriction was removed. Nevertheless, no city official raised any objection or took any step to ensure that Rivington continue to serve a public purpose to benefit the community.”
Mayor de Blasio swears that he was out of the loop on the city’s plans to lift 45 Rivington Street’s two-part deed restriction that required the protected property to be used for only a nonprofit nursing home.
According to The Post, the DOI report includes an incriminating email from First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris to the mayor on August 3, 2014, in which Shorris mentions that the Rivington property had been discussed during a meeting.
The report says that when investigators confronted Hizzoner with the email he claimed that he “did not recall receiving” it.
“[He] stated that the request to lift the Rivington deed restriction was a decision that should have been brought to his attention but was not.”
The city was paid $16.1 million by the Allure Group, which bought the nursing home for $28 million from VillageCare, to remove the deed restrictions. Allure then sold the property for $116 million to developers that intended to construct luxury condos on the site, including the Slate Property Group.
“DOI’s investigation further revealed a complete lack of accountability within city government regarding deed-restriction removals and significant communication failures between and within City Hall and DCAS [the Department of Citywide Administrative Services],” the report says.
The Post reports, “The agency’s assessment includes ample evidence that high-ranking City Hall officials were aware of discussions surrounding the unusual maneuver and “failed to stop it.”
Shorris received multiple memos from former DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch about the lifting of the deed restriction months in advance, but, like de Blasio, he claims he never saw them.
‘FDM Shorris stated he did not read the memos that Commissioner Cumberbatch provided to him, and that no one flagged the issue for him,’ the report says.
In 2014, Shorris was included on an email that discussed the different ways the site could be redeveloped, with one of the options being to sell it to a private developer.
Even more troubling, the DOI has accused de Blasio’s Law Department of hindering its investigation by refusing to hand over documents and barring the agency from accessing City Hall computers.”
The report states, “Because DOI did not receive a full production of what it requested, it is unclear what Rivington-related information remains on the City Hall servers and computers, to which DOI was denied access.”
In one of the cases, 1,000 documents were given to the DOI with 990 pages that had nothing on them except for the letters “NR,” which stand for “not responsive.”
A representative of the DOI told reporters that the agency is “considering appropriate enforcement options.”
The Post reports, “It also emerged that the DCAS cribbed language written by VillageCare lobbyist and big-time de Blasio donor James Capalino in the ‘justification memo’it prepared as part of the process for lifting the restriction.
‘The justification provided was therefore taken from the perspective of the property owner,’ the report says.
The DCAS patted itself on the back after the deed modification deal was done, with Cumberbatch blasting out an email to staff that said, ‘Congratulations!’
Investigations into the deed debacle are far from over. Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara is still probing the deal, along with the state attorney general and the city comptroller.”
In a statement, Comptroller Scott Stringer said, “The more that’s revealed about the Rivington House deal, the clearer it becomes that the administration failed on every level of oversight and operations/ The city abdicated its responsibility to safeguard our communities and to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”
On Thursday, July 14, before a town hall meeting in East New York, Brooklyn, de Blasio said he didn’t feel he or anyone else in his administration was to blame for the Rivington deal.
He said, “The report makes clear that we were working as an administration on the basis of policies from 25 years ago. It was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened. If I had known about it, I would not have allowed it to happen.”