A well-hidden heated disagreement between New York City attorneys and investigators concerning documents that are part of a Manhattan nursing home deal went public last week when two agencies within the de Blasio administration exchanged caustic statements and cast doubt on each other’s good faith and truthfulness.
New York City’s Investigation Department and its Law Department have been feuding over specific e-mails, memorandums and other city documents related to the controversial sale of a nursing home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that is called Rivington House. Earlier in 2016, a group of developers purchased the building for $116 million, a transaction only made possible after the city had removed a protective deed restriction in exchange for $16.15 million in November.
According to the New York Times, the dispute suddenly blew up after the Investigation Department, which is conducting an inquiry into the deal, released its report and criticized the Law Department for withholding or redacting many pages of documents potentially related to the Rivington House.
While the report did not determine any tangible misdeeds in the way City Hall handled the removal of the nursing home’s deed restriction, it cautioned that the full extent of the city’s involvement in the deal could not be known, given that documents were redacted.
For its part, the Law Department contended that it took on the investigation in the same manner as other inquiries into the Rivington House deal, which are being conducted presently by the city’s comptroller, the state attorney general and federal prosecutors.
However, investigators warned they would press a court case against the city lawyers to obligate a disclosure of the hidden information, spotlighting two documents that the Law Department had at first redacted, but were subsequently obtained by investigators in full form, and contained information of relevance to the inquiry.
Finally giving in, the Law Department submitted thousands of unredacted documents to investigators and gave them access to City Hall computers, including those used by Mayor de Blasio. The Investigation Department expressed a feeling of vindication, as it believes city rules allow it greater freedom of access to city files while conducting probes than is afforded even to federal investigators.
“I am pleased that the Law Department decided to comply with the law,” stated Mark Peters, the department’s commissioner.
However, only the next day after the documents’ release, the two agencies got into a bitter argument over what they had actually agreed to the day before in terms of access to City Hall computers.
The Law Department suddenly accused the Investigation Department of making “false” statements about the documents it had outlined in the letter, and of attempting to gain “unprecedented access” to City Hall computers. Hours later, the Investigation Department responded that the statement by the Law Department “asserting an alternate agreement is not true and in variance with its written commitment to D.O.I.”
Mayor de Blasio, who had earlier stated that the exchanges between the city’s Investigation Department and its Law Department were “totally normal,” brushed off any allegation that city lawyers were hiding evidence of wrongdoing.