Mayor de Blasio insisted there’s “nothing there” behind allegations he inappropriately intervened on behalf of a major campaign donor and Queens restaurant owner who owed back rent to the city.
De Blasio said he asked aides to help the businessman, Harendra Singh, because he appeared to have “valid” concerns with city bureaucracy — before he got indicted on a raft of unrelated charges.
“It’s been looked at, and there’s just nothing there, is the bottom line,” de Blasio said Monday night in an appearance on NY1.
As first reported by the Daily News, an ex-deputy commissioner at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services charged in legal papers that he was fired because he complained about City Hall doing favors for Singh, whose Long Island City restaurant Water’s Edge owed nearly $750,000 in back rent.
“That’s exactly false. There were real issues with performance,” de Blasio said of Morales. “I’m not going to get into detail because you know he’s initiated a lawsuit to try and get monetary gain for himself. I’m only going to say it had nothing to do with this particular situation. It had to do with overall performance.”
“The Mayor insults the intelligence of real New Yorkers,” said Morales’s lawyer Robert Kraus. “Ricardo Morales did not suddenly become a performance problem after 20 years of exemplary civil service to the people of this great City. Ricardo Morales was fired suddenly because he objected to to City Hall’s well documented pay to play culture.”
The termination was also due to Morales’s objections to City Hall’s attempt to “peddle a false narrative” about the lifting of a deed restriction at Lower East Side nursing home Rivington House, allowing it to be flipped for luxury condos, he said.
Singh, an early supporter of de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral bid, raised $24,000 for de Blasio and held two fund-raisers at Water’s Edge. The campaign did not pay for the events until years later, when the Campaign Finance Board demanded documentation.
De Blasio did not deny asking DCAS and his top political aide Emma Wolfe to help resolve Singh’s dispute over rent for the waterfront parcel he leased from the city, but said there was nothing wrong with the request.
Singh was arrested by the FBI in 2015 and charged with multiple counts of fraud. Federal prosecutors alleged he’d ripped off insurance companies, bribed a Long Island politician and defrauded the Federal Emergency Management Agency out of payments following Hurricane Sandy.
But before that, de Blasio viewed him as a legitimate businessman who had credible gripes with DCAS, he said.
“Long before we ever knew of this individual’s problems, there were real concerns he raised as a small business person that seemed quite valid, and problems with the bureaucracy. It was handled the way anything else would be handled,” the mayor said.
Prosecutors declined in March to bring any charges in an investigation into de Blasio and his aides over fund-raising tactics, which included the Singh case. But acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim made a point of stating that de Blasio and his staff had intervened on behalf of some of his donors.
“I’ll forward an issue to any commissioner, anybody in government. I know they’re going to decide on the merits,” de Blasio said. “What, are we not supposed to send something over to an agency to deal with? That’s crazy.”