News that a top de Blasio administration staffer fired an employee for cooperating with an investigation into the mayor’s fundraising practices, and then apparently lied about it under oath, should provoke renewed scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s dealings with donors.
But this new evidence also suggests the mayor’s office orchestrated the firing of the whistleblower and ordered an official to perjure herself about it. This especially cries out for inquiry and severe consequences for the responsible parties.
Ricardo Morales, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, was apparently tasked with helping connected insiders like James Capalino and Harendra Singh receive favorable treatment from the city on their projects.
Capalino, a powerful lobbyist and fundraiser, wanted a deed restriction lifted on the Rivington House nursing home so it could be turned into luxury residences. Singh, who pleaded guilty in federal court to bribing the de Blasio administration, wanted favorable terms for a lease renewal.
Morales cooperated with law-enforcement probes into City Hall pay-to-play practices and was fired a few hours after de Blasio spoke with federal investigators in February 2017, at which time Morales’ cooperation evidently came to light.
At a City Council hearing on March 13, 2017, DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo testified under oath that Morales’ firing had “absolutely nothing to do with Rivington” and that it was “part of a number of changes” her department was making. New e-mails between high-level de Blasio staff indicate that she was lying.
As The Post reported, former de Blasio Press Secretary Eric Phillips asked, “Did Lisette really say Morales’ firing wasn’t related to rivington?” in an e-mail to Jon Paul Lupo, de Blasio’s former director of intergovernmental affairs. “Yes. That’s what we were told she had to say for legal reasons,” replied Lupo.
Under the Fifth Amendment, it is permissible to refuse to answer a question while under oath, and lawyers can legitimately advise their clients of their right to stay silent.
But there are no “legal reasons” for lying to a legislative body. Assuming that Lupo — a key de Blasio ally and one of his closest confidants — is correct, then people at the highest levels in City Hall suborned Camilo’s perjury before the council to cover up the retaliatory termination of a whistleblower. Such actions are manifestly illegal.
Despite manifold indications that he has run city government as a place where prominent consultants could drop off donations and get their tickets punched, Mayor de Blasio has skirted the legal consequences.
His dodgy nonprofit “Campaign for One New York” was a siphon to transfer money from powerful City Hall supplicants to de Blasio’s consultant handlers, whom he dubbed “agents of the city” to shield their communications from scrutiny.
He arranged for rich donors to bypass campaign-finance laws by using county political committees as pass-throughs for the 2014 state Senate election campaigns. More recently, the city bought 17 buildings at an extraordinarily inflated price from two slumlords represented by a powerful donor to de Blasio’s Fairness PAC.
The mayor likely owes his liberty to President Trump, who fired his main pursuer Preet Bharara just as he was preparing to drop the hammer. State and local overseers, meanwhile, have been utterly negligent. Manhattan DA Cy Vance used Bharara’s firing as a screen to drop his own timid inquiries, and neither former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (remember him?) nor increasingly irrelevant AG Letitia James have taken notice of the ethical irregularities that surround de Blasio.
The new information suggesting perjury by a top de Blasio official demands immediate attention from any authorities who haven’t already been corrupted by de Blasio’s culture of pay-to-play. Speaker Corey Johnson must defend whatever shreds of integrity the council retains and summon Camilo to explain if she was ordered to lie, and, if so, by whom.
Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett must scrutinize the operations of the mayor’s office and grill Lupo, Phillips and other current and former members of de Blasio’s staff to determine who sought to cover up the Rivington scandal.
The mayor has praised the impeachment of President Trump for “sacrificing the integrity of our democracy.” But de Blasio’s own stint in office mocks decency. New York City insists he be called to account for his evident corruption.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
Seth Barron is associate editor of City Journal.
Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images