Saturday, January 14, 2017

New York State May Be Sued For Voting Violations by the United States Department of Justice

re-posted from the New York Times and Parentadvocates.org:



      

U.S. Threatens to Sue New York State Over Voting Violations

The Justice Department has notified New York State officials that it may sue the state over what it says are widespread failures to comply with a provision of federal voter registration law that requires state drivers’ license applications to double as applications for voter registration, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.

In the letter, dated Jan. 6, the Justice Department lays out how the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles violates the law. The lapses “deprive numerous New Yorkers of important voter registration opportunities required under federal law,” according to the letter, which was signed by Vanita Gupta, the head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department.

At D.M.V. offices throughout the state, a Justice Department investigation found, drivers’ license applications do not also serve as voter registration forms unless applicants request it, and the option is sometimes closed even to those who make a request.

The letter said that even among D.M.V. offices that allow voter registration, some do not pass registration forms to election officials in the time required by law. That finding echoes those described by the office of the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, in a report on voting issues surrounding the 2016 presidential primary.

Applications to renew drivers’ licenses online are also supposed to automatically serve as voter registration applications, the letter said, but they do not. When drivers submit a change of address to the D.M.V. online, that notification is also required to function as a change of address submission for voter registration, but in New York, the letter said, it does not.

The D.M.V. offers online voter registration separately from its other applications, but that is “no substitute” for combining the voter registration and drivers’ license application processes, the letter said.

Though Ms. Gupta has authorized a lawsuit, the state and the Justice Department could resolve the issue before it reaches a courtroom. The letter said the Justice Department will delay filing a complaint while it discusses the matter with state officials. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on Friday.

Joe Morrissey, a spokesman for the D.M.V., said: “State laws and policies clearly require auto-combining of drivers’ license applications and voter registration applications. D.M.V. looks forward to speaking with D.O.J. to determine what, if any, concerns exist.”

The letter to the D.M.V. arrived a few days before the Justice Department asked to join a lawsuit over what it said were dysfunctional registration procedures at the New York City Board of Elections, which has been accused of mistakenly dropping more than 117,000 eligible Brooklyn voters from the registration rolls before the 2016 primary.

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a series of proposals that he said would reform how New Yorkers vote, including instituting early voting along with automatic and same-day registration. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

With Norman Seabrook's Arrest, What Happens To Riker's Island Reform?


Norman Seabrook after he was arraigned on corruption charges on Wednesday in
Manhattan.

Norman Seabrook’s Ouster as Union Chief May Complicate Overhaul at Rikers


LINK


In his two decades as leader of the nation’s largest municipal correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook managed to consolidate near-total control, his authority on the cellblocks of Rikers Island often eclipsing that of commissioners and mayors.


But with his arrest this week on corruption charges, it would appear that Mr. Seabrook’s reign is on the verge of collapse. On Thursday, he was ousted as union president and replaced for now by his second in command.


The biggest question is how this affects the efforts underway to reform the Rikers jail complex. The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has invested enormous political capital and hundreds of millions of dollars to remake New York City’s jails and to end the violence and corruption that has long plagued them.


Mr. Seabrook has been a fierce opponent of many of the changes being put in place at Rikers, particularly the scaling back of solitary confinement, which will soon be eliminated for all inmates under age 22.


But as the lone voice for the city’s 9,000 correction officers, his willingness to cooperate with at least some of the reform efforts was important. He was a strongman, but one who gave voice and coherence to a group of workers split among more than a dozen facilities and three shifts.


Among the rank-and-file, Mr. Seabrook commanded tremendous loyalty. Unlike the department officials and the commissioners who came and went, he was one of them, a correction officer born in the Bronx and raised poor as one of eight children. He was also a black man leading a heavily black union, sensitive to racial issues on the job and in the community.


At graduation ceremonies, new recruits would watch the droning speeches of officials with barely disguised boredom. When Mr. Seabrook took the stage — often to disparage those previous speakers to their faces — they were on their feet.


In those ways, his absence could pose headaches to reformers.


No matter how ambitious the reform agenda of Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, may be, it can go nowhere without the support of the men and women who work the cellblocks.


With Mr. Seabrook gone, the question is, Who will speak for them now?


During his tenure as president, Mr. Seabrook quashed any potential challengers and never groomed a strong successor. His 14-member executive board is considered weak, commanding none of the loyalty among members that he has long enjoyed.


“Norman is a tyrant,” said William Valentin, who spent five years on the executive board and was kicked out by Mr. Seabrook in August 2015. “The executive board is pretty much under his control. They really don’t argue with him too much. Whatever he says goes.”


Understanding Mr. Seabrook’s outsized importance on the cellblocks requires understanding the history of the city’s Correction Department. By the end of the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican turned political independent, there was a real power vacuum in the department. It was considered a low priority, and the commissioner at the time, Dora B. Schriro, was a weak leader.


Mr. Seabrook stepped into that void, his power perhaps reaching its apex in fall 2013, when he almost single-handedly shut down the city court system by directing his members in a work stoppage that halted almost all of the buses that ferry inmates to and from court.


A judge complained that the court system had been “held hostage,” and Mr. Bloomberg sued the union. But Mr. Seabrook emerged unscathed.


Even after Mr. de Blasio took office in 2014 and appointed the reform-minded Joseph Ponte as correction commissioner, Mr. Seabrook continued to behave as if he were in charge of Rikers. He called a news conference in which he derided Mr. Ponte as a “hug a thug” yokel from Maine who was out of his league.


Mr. de Blasio seemed to go out of his way early on in his administration to try to cultivate the union leader. During the height of the Ebola crisis in late 2014, for example, the mayor took a break from emergency preparations to attend a charity dinner hosted by Mr. Seabrook at a Bronx ballroom. In a speech, Mr. de Blasio described him as “a friend” and “a great leader in this town.”


But the landscape was changing. News organizations and city investigators were exposing a culture of pervasive brutality in the jails. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office filed charges against Mr. Seabrook on Wednesday, eventually joined a class-action lawsuit that led to intervention by a federal monitor. And the new mayor took an aggressive stance, vowing to remake Rikers.


Faced with constant obstruction by Mr. Seabrook, who often told his members that Rikers was “our house,” the administration sought ways to circumvent him. Perhaps the most important sign that the balance of power had shifted was a decision by Mr. Ponte to exclude Mr. Seabrook from a behind-the-scenes deal to significantly cut back on the use of solitary confinement. Mr. Seabrook stood at a public meeting and harshly criticized the administration, but the deal to end isolation for all inmates under 22 was done.


Mr. Seabrook continued to bluster publicly about the changes, once showing up outside City Hall with a coffin, meant to represent the dangers facing jail officers. But he also worked with the administration to improve training and to raise hiring standards.


Speaking about Mr. Seabrook’s arrest, Mr. de Blasio described his relationship with the union leader as “fraught.”


“Sometimes he was willing to work with us,” the mayor said. “Sometimes he wasn’t.”


Now there is great uncertainty about what comes next for the union.


Mr. Seabrook is set to run unopposed in unionwide elections this summer. Ballots have already been distributed to the membership, and for now, the plan is to let the election continue as scheduled, according to a union official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to discuss internal union business publicly.


If there are no challenges, the official said, the role of president will be fulfilled for the foreseeable future by Elias Husamudeen, Mr. Seabrook’s trusted second in command.
From Elias Husamudeen – President of COBA:
"We are saddened and concerned by these allegations, but would point out that Mr. Seabrook is innocent of these charges until proven otherwise and we look forward to him having his day in court. But let’s be clear, the current leadership of COBA will remain focused on protecting the women and men in uniform who risk their lives working in our jails every day. Our officers face an increase in gang violence, an increase in encounters with the mentally ill that they are inadequately trained for, and an increase in overtime that is pushing them to the brink. These issues are too important to allow for distractions."
Norman Seabrook at his office
At Rikers Island, Union Chief’s Clout Is a Roadblock to Reform
Riker's Island Jail Complex

LINK
With brutality by guards at the Rikers Island jail complex rising at an alarming rate, the chief investigator for the New York City Correction Department stood before a roomful of senior officers and union leaders in the summer of 2012 and outlined her plans to crack down on abuse and send more cases to prosecutors.
Riker's Jail
The presentation infuriated one man in particular, Norman Seabrook, the powerful president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, who believed the incidents should be handled internally. For the next two years he did everything in his power to get rid of the investigator, Florence Finkle. He helped scuttle some of her investigations, got one of her top people transferred, called for her resignation and denounced her on his weekly radio show.


In August, he finally got his wish: Ms. Finkle was forced out, replaced by a former senior Police Department official — a childhood friend of Mr. Seabrook’s.


Over his two decades as president of the union, Mr. Seabrook has come to exert extraordinary control over the Correction Department, consulting with commissioners on key appointments, forging alliances with high-ranking uniformed correction leaders and, more recently, speaking regularly with Mayor Bill de Blasio about department policy. His influence has paid enormous dividends for his members, but it has also fed a culture of violence and corruption at Rikers, an investigation by The New York Times found.


The investigation involved scores of interviews, with former correction commissioners, former senior City Hall aides, and current and former department officials, and reviews of internal emails and other documents, as well as several lengthy interviews with Mr. Seabrook himself. What emerged was a portrait of a labor leader who wields remarkable power through a combination of political savvy and intimidation.


“I came to think that my wardens believed Norman was more important to their career than I was,” said Martin F. Horn, who served as commissioner from 2003 to 2009.


Mr. Seabrook’s power has cut two ways.


Under his leadership, correction officers, long overlooked among the city’s uniformed services, have seen large gains in salary and pension benefits, reaching parity with firefighters and police officers. Like Mr. Seabrook, the overwhelming majority of his members are black. They have risen to dominate the top ranks of the department, making it far more diverse than the Police and Fire Departments, where most of the leadership is white.


But current and former city officials repeatedly described Mr. Seabrook as the biggest obstacle to efforts to curb brutality and malfeasance at Rikers. He has vigorously resisted stiffer penalties for the use of excessive force by guards and has fought stronger screening measures designed to stop correction officers from smuggling weapons and drugs into the jails. Time and again, Mr. Seabrook has shielded his members from serious punishment when investigators like Ms. Finkle have tried to go after them.


Last year, when prosecutors charged 10 officers in a beating that fractured an inmate’s nose and eye sockets, Mr. Seabrook vigorously defended them.


“Here we have correction officers paraded into court for merely defending themselves,” he said. “The officers did everything that they were supposed to do.”


Much of Mr. Seabrook’s influence within the department comes from a fear of what he might do to those who cross him. The Times spoke with about a dozen current and former senior city officials, both inside and outside the department, who have dealt with him regularly over the years and were privately critical of him. But almost no one would be quoted discussing Mr. Seabrook, citing concerns that he could sabotage their careers. Some also expressed fears about their safety while visiting Rikers, worrying that a correction officer might look the other way if an inmate suddenly got violent.


“He’s a bully,” said Daniel Dromm, a city councilman who has openly clashed with Mr. Seabrook on several occasions. “They’re afraid of him.”


3 New York City Correction Officials to Step Down Amid Scrutiny of Rikers


In a major shake-up at the New York City Correction Department, three high-ranking officials, including the top uniformed officer, are stepping down amid mounting criticism over the handling of violence and corruption at Rikers Island.


The chief of department, William Clemons, and two deputies — Joandrea Davis, the bureau chief of administration, and Gregory McLaughlin, the bureau chief of facility operations — are departing, correction officials said. The surprise departures came just five months after all three were appointed to their current posts by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte.


A department spokesman said the changes were the result of “a restructuring” by Mr. Ponte in an effort to halt brutality on the most violent cellblocks.


The department has been under intense pressure from lawmakers and federal and city investigators to address systemic brutality and corruption at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail complex. The United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which in August released a damning report detailing abuse of adolescent inmates at Rikers, has threatened to sue the city if changes are not made.


The highest-ranking official in the group, Mr. Clemons, is a 29-year veteran of the department. But he has been under scrutiny since an investigation by The New York Times in September uncovered details from an internal Correction Department audit that found he had “abdicated all responsibility” in his duties as warden of a juvenile facility at Rikers in 2011, where hundreds of inmate fights had been omitted from official statistics. The audit recommended that he be demoted.


Instead, he was promoted several times. And The Times found that large sections of the audit, including the recommendation for demotion and the sharpest criticism, were removed from the report by the previous commissioner, Dora B. Schriro.


Mr. Ponte has said he did not see the unedited version of the report before appointing Mr. Clemons chief of department in May. The commissioner promoted him over the objections of the city’s Department of Investigation, The Times found.


In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Mr. Ponte wrote that Mr. Clemons had “proved himself an able leader” and “was a model of stability in a tumultuous time.” Mr. Ponte said he would appoint a new chief by Dec. 1.


Ms. Davis, who joined the department in 1988, is Mr. Clemons’s sister-in-law. She served as warden of three of the 10 jails at Rikers, including the women’s detention center, before moving to administrative positions. Reached by telephone, she declined to comment.


Mr. McLaughlin has been with the department for 27 years and has held several posts. He was warden of the Robert N. Davoren Center, an adolescent jail at Rikers, during a period of extreme violence, and was removed from that command in 2008 shortly after Christopher Robinson, an 18-year-old inmate, was beaten to death by fellow inmates. Mr. McLaughlin could not be reached for comment.


Ms. Davis, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Clemons were promoted to their positions shortly after Mr. Ponte’s arrival in April. Ms. Davis will leave her position on Nov. 1, while Mr. Clemons and Mr. McLaughlin are to step down on Dec. 1.


In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Ponte said that he was now reorganizing the department to improve oversight of the most violent jails at Rikers. This includes getting high-ranking officers out from behind their desks and onto the cellblocks for the majority of their workweek.


He has also designated a civilian, James E. Dzurenda, the former commissioner of Connecticut’s state prisons, to oversee the top ranking chiefs. The change represents a shifting of authority from the traditionally dominant uniformed staff.


The de Blasio administration has also been looking for ways to bring in new leaders, announcing in September that it was seeking to change civil service laws to allow the hiring of high-ranking correction officers from outside the department.


Under the reorganization, Mr. Ponte said he eliminated several top uniformed positions, including those of Ms. Davis and Mr. McLaughlin, prompting them to leave.


“We want to kind of take a look from the ground up with new eyes in these positions,” he said.


Asked whether Mr. Clemons was pressured to step down, Mr. Ponte said it was the chief’s “personal decision.”


Earlier this month, at a City Council hearing about violence at Rikers, Mr. Ponte praised Mr. Clemons for a “long history of doing good work in the agency.”


Lawmakers were not so kind.


Citing The Times’s investigation, the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, criticized Mr. Ponte for failing to fire Mr. Clemons, calling the department chief “clearly incompetent.”


In a joint statement released on Tuesday, Ms. Mark-Viverito and Elizabeth Crowley, a council member and the chairwoman of the committee overseeing Rikers, urged Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Ponte to seek out new leadership.


“For too long, the Department of Correction has been rife with the mismanagement and mistreatment of inmates, and the Council’s oversight has only served to further shed light on the deep-seated issues plaguing the D.O.C.,” the statement said.


In the face of the harsh criticism directed at Mr. Clemons, some of his strongest support came from the powerful correction officers’ union and its president, Norman Seabrook. After the Council hearing, Mr. Seabrook’s deputy, Elias Husamudeen, wrote on the union’s website: “I feel like this Council is calling for the head of Chief Clemons.” But on Tuesday, union officials declined to comment on Mr. Clemons’s departure.


Mr. Clemons has largely kept a low profile since the Times report. He did not attend the recent Council hearing, prompting Councilwoman Crowley to say that he “did not have the backbone to appear.”


On Monday, Mr. Clemons arrived at the commissioner’s office at 7 a.m., before the regular staff meeting, Mr. Ponte said.


Mr. Ponte recalled, “He came in and said: ‘I decided to put in my papers; I’m going to retire. I think it’s time.’ ”

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bill deBlasio and His Corrupt Loans To Four Troubled Pre-K Programs


Mayor Bill deBlasio

De Blasio used ‘slush fund’ to support faulty pre-K programs




Mayor de Blasio’s office arranged for a nonprofit fund to loan $1.36 million to four private pre-kindergarten programs too troubled to get city contracts. Now it wants to use taxpayer money to repay the loans.
Education watchdogs say the mayor side-stepped procedures that guard against waste and abuse by asking the Fund for the City of New York to finance the faulty pre-K vendors.
“It’s like using a slush fund to avoid their own procurement rules,” said Patrick Sullivan, a former member of the Panel for Educational Policy, which votes on Department of Education contracts.
The moves come amid charges that the mayor created another nonprofit, Campaign for One New York, as a political slush fund to finance his agenda. In a probe revealed Friday, the state Board of Elections found that de Blasio and his top aides used the nonprofit to ­illegally raise money for fellow Democrats.
The 50-year-old Fund for the City of New York created an interest-free-loan program in 1976 to provide cash to nonprofits waiting for money from approved government contracts. In this case, the city gave a green light for pre-K programs to accept kids last school year despite problems including tax evasion, misspending public funds and failure to hire sufficient qualified staff — a move Sullivan called “irresponsible.”
Other critics agreed.
“It puts the taxpayers’ money at risk and it puts vulnerable children at risk,” said Leonie Haimson, an education advocate with Class Size Matters and a DOE budget watchdog.
In a rush to expand de Blasio’s signature Pre-K for All initiative in 2014-15, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services asked the Fund for the City of New York to give “bridge loans” to the four vendors to pay teachers and other expenses pending the background stamp of approval:
·         Church Avenue Day Care in Brooklyn, whose program cost $768,676, did not file city corporate tax returns from 2010 to 2014, which disqualified the vendor. Phone numbers listed for the company were out of service Friday.
·         B’Above WorldWide Institute in Richmond Hill, Queens, loaned $330,050, failed to fix problems with oversight, staffing, rec­ords management and curriculum, records show. A representative did not return a call.
·         Footsteps Childcare in Brooklyn, loaned $133,840, was accused in 2008 of “numerous instances of failure to demonstrate that it had spent monies properly” under a former contract with the state Office of Children and Family Services. It reimbursed $64,000 of $100,000 the state found misappropriated. “I don’t want to talk about it,” Footsteps ­Director Monica McDonald said Friday.
·         West Harlem Community Organization, loaned $130,000, owes state and federal taxes and has not yet settled with the IRS. In addition, the city Health Department shut down a pre-K class it was running under the Administration for Children’s Services for failure to hire qualified teachers and do background checks on some staff. The ­issues were fixed and the program reopened last July 1, representatives said.
The DOE has since dropped all four pre-K providers. Now it plans to ask the city Comptroller’s Office to retroactively approve contracts with the vendors so taxpayer money can repay the Fund for the City of New York for its bridge loans.
Experts called the unusual request an ­end-run around the rules.
“We will review these contracts when they are submitted,” said comptroller spokesman Eric Sumberg.
The DOE says taxpayers should foot the bill even though it found the vendors “nonresponsible” and lacking the required integrity to win contracts.
All pre-K providers undergo a “rigorous review process” and strict oversight, said DOE spokeswoman Toya Holness, adding that performance or safety problems can result in immediate suspension or eventual termination.
“All families can rest assured their child is in a safe and supportive learning environment,” Holness said.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The de Blasio-City Council-NYPD-Industrial-Complex

Re-posted from COURTBEAT

Betsy Combier
betsy.combier@gmail.com
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, Parentadvocates.org
Editor,COURTBEAT, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice

Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council, the NYPD, and the 2012 Responsible Banking Act - Not

If the powers that be in New York City can shine a light on Mayor Bill and the NYC City Council, I think that the disaster we have voted into office will be clear.

See Bill's bio. His real name is Warren Wilhelm, Jr. He became Bill de Blasio in 2002.

Mayor's Pal Yitzchok Leshinsky and Housing Bridge Are Under Investigation




Betsy Combier
Editor, Courtbeat

A top aide to Mayor de Blasio had warned against putting the businessmen now at the center of the NYPD corruption scandal onto Hizzoner’s 2014 inaugural committee, The Post has learned.
But Avi Fink was blown off by de Blasio’s chief fund-raiser — whose campaign-finance work is under investigation — and also by the committee’s chairwoman.
Fink, a mayoral adviser on Jewish issues who is on leave working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, told Ross Offinger and Gabrielle Fialkoff that he had concerns about Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz, sources said Thursday.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
“People in the Orthodox community told Avi they had questions about where his money comes from and said he’s not a community activist, he’s only out for himself,” one source said.The red flags included doubts about how Reichberg, a prominent member of the Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, had attained his wealth, sources said.
Another source said Rechnitz was well-known in the Bukharan Jewish community in Queens for clashing with Israeli billionaire and diamond merchant Lev Leviev over a business deal.
Jeremy Reichberg (left) and Jona Rechnitz
“He had a falling out with [Leviev] that may have tarnished his reputation,” the source said.
Offinger and Fialkoff, a jewelry heiress who now holds a $203,000-a-year City Hall job, let them join the committee anyway.
Perks of a committee appointment included seating at the Jan. 1 inauguration ceremony and a spot on a receiving line to congratulate the mayor, as well as an invitation to a Gracie Mansion breakfast the next Sunday.
Avi Fink
Rechnitz and his wife each donated the maximum $4,950 to de Blasio’s campaign, which the mayor has said he would return.
After de Blasio’s election, Reichberg hosted a fund-raiser at his Borough Park home that raked in $35,000 for the Campaign for One New York, the mayor’s now-defunct nonprofit.
Fink, Offinger and Fialkoff — who runs the de Blasio-created Office of Strategic Partnerships — did not return calls for comment.
A de Blasio campaign spokesman didn’t deny Fink’s warnings but issued a statement describing the inaugural committee as “a large, ceremonial group” whose “members were recommended and vetted by campaign staff and chosen by staff in partnership with the volunteer chairperson.”
Additional reporting by Yoav Gonen

The Judge Who Saved New York

MAYOR DE BLASIO IS BARRED FROM REGULATING BANKS. CRISIS AVERTED.

A meteor headed straight for the world’s financial center has been knocked off course. Federal Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the Southern District of New York has prevented catastrophe in Gotham by knocking out the city’s 2012 Responsible Banking Act. The benefits will be felt far beyond New York.
The idea behind the law was to pressure banks to provide more loans to politically favored borrowers. The plan by the New York City Council was to take an obscure, routine function of approving banks to hold the city’s deposits and use it as leverage to assert a vast authority over lending that even many Washington regulators would envy.
Step one was creation of the Community Investment Advisory Board, charged with collecting data from banks on their efforts to offer services “most needed by low and moderate income individuals and communities.” The board was also deputized to examine what the banks were doing in “affordable housing,” foreclosure prevention, “community development” and other projects that might “positively impact” the city through activities such as “philanthropic work and charitable giving.”
Yes, the progressives who run New York City think it’s their business to pass judgment on private charitable donations. After the board had examined the banks and opined on how socially responsible they were, city bureaucrats were then empowered to use these judgments to determine which firms would be official deposit banks in New York City. The city would put out annual reports essentially grading each bank.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg thought this was illegal. Under longstanding precedent, banking regulation is conducted by the feds and states. Federal law states that “no national bank shall be subject to any visitorial powers except as authorized by federal law,” but the council overrode a Bloomberg veto.
The new board created by the law recently started demanding information from banks, including proprietary data that could reflect the health of the bank and involve trade secrets. A number of other big cities, including Philadelphia and Los Angeles, have also sought to enforce “responsible banking.”
Judge Failla found that the Responsible Banking Act is “preempted by federal and state law,” contains “unconstitutional provisions” at its heart and is “void in its entirety.” Under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, federal law trumps subordinate laws, so a city cannot simply choose to override national banking policy on a whim.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s lawyers argued that compliance was voluntary and the city is free to choose which banking services to purchase. But Judge Failla noted that the law had nothing to do with getting a better deal on the city’s checking accounts and everything to do with broad social goals. Cities are free to use their proprietary power to select the best services at the lowest cost, but not to use this as a pretext for unrelated regulation of activity already governed by state and federal law. As for the idea that banks didn’t have to participate, the judge noted that the law “secures compliance through public shaming of banks.”
Good for Judge Failla, Sullivan & Cromwell counsel Robert Giuffra who argued the case, and the citizens of New York City who have been saved from another progressive onslaught.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Mayor's Pal Yitzchok Leshinsky and Housing Bridge Are Under Investigation


Mayor DeBlasio and Yitzchok "Isaac" Leshinsky (inset)
Mayor's Pal Investigated for Alleged Misuse of Money From City Contracts
LINK
By James Fanelli | March 28, 2016 7:42am
MIDWOOD — A longtime friend and campaign donor of Mayor Bill de Blasio who ran a nonprofit that amassed more than $260 million in city contracts to house the homeless is under investigation over loans and compensation given to him and companies he ran, DNAinfo New York has learned.
Since January, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Office and the city Department of Investigation have been looking into Yitzchok Leshinsky and Housing Bridge, the nonprofit he founded in 2006, according to sources.
Leshinsky, 43, who also goes by Isaac, was the CEO of Housing Bridge from its start until February 2015, when he resigned after the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services grilled the nonprofit over financial irregularities.
From 2010 to his resignation, Leshinsky’s annual salary from Housing Bridge — which is also known as Housing Partners of New York — rose from $300,000 to $375,000, tax filings and the nonprofit's board meeting minutes show.
During that time, Housing Bridge also gave more than $5 million in loans and consulting fees to Leshinsky, his real estate firm and two job-training companies he and his wife ran, the tax filings show.
THE PROBE
The state AG’s probe focuses on the conflict of interest in the nonprofit providing loans and advance payments to the job-training businesses and Leshinsky, according to sources.
State law requires a nonprofit to fully disclose any conflicts of interest when it conducts business with an insider. Before agreeing to the transaction, a nonprofit board must consider alternatives and document why it chose the insider.
Leshinsky's job-training businesses, Bridge Community Center LLC and Bridge to Employment LLC, received nearly $1.5 million in compensation even before they provided any services, according to tax filings. Some of the loans to Bridge to Employment were even used to launch the company. Bridge to Employment's address is also adjacent to Housing Bridge's main office in Midwood.
Meanwhile, Leshinsky's real estate firm, Parkland Estates, collected at least $525,000 in consulting fees from Housing Bridge, the tax filings show. The nonprofit also loaned Parkland $464,329.
Leshinsky himself received nearly $840,000 in loans from Housing Bridge, according to the filings.
An audit commissioned by Housing Bridge's board after Leshinsky's resignation showed that he owed the nonprofit $3 million. Leshinsky has said in legal documents that he has paid back the debt.
Just a decade old, Housing Bridge has secured more than $260 million worth of contracts with the city’s Department of Homeless Services to provide transitional housing and social services to more than 1,000 families in Queens, The Bronx and Brooklyn. More than $60 million in contracts were signed after de Blasio became mayor.
Even after the Mayor's Office of Contract Services learned of the financial irregularities at Housing Bridge, the nonprofit continued to pick up contracts with Homeless Services, including two that began in July.
Minutes from a Sept. 17, 2015, meeting of Housing Bridge's board members show that Lucille McEwen, a deputy commissioner at Homeless Services, had told them at one point that the agency planned on holding off on new contracts with the nonprofit due to its financial problems.
But she later changed her mind after Housing Bridge convinced her of the good work it had done, according to the board minutes. 
LONGTIME FRIENDS
The relationship between Leshinsky and de Blasio goes back at least a decade.
City records show that Leshinsky and his wife, Michelle, have donated $19,475 to de Blasio campaigns since 2007. Leshinsky also bundled an additional $2,500 in contributions as an intermediary to de Blasio’s mayoral run.
The New York World story documented how Leshinsky broke campaign finance rules by directly contributing $2,500 to de Blasio's mayoral campaign. People who do business with the city can only give up to $500 to a candidate.
The de Blasio campaign has not refunded the over-contributions, according to campaign finance records.
Before starting Housing Bridge, Leshinsky was a real estate agent who helped homeless families find apartments. He lives in a Midwood home he bought for $975,000 in 2014, property records show.
In his resignation letter to Housing Bridge's board, Leshinsky said his reason for stepping down as the CEO was because his wife was battling cancer and he needed to care for their five young children.
Earlier this month, he filed a petition in Brooklyn Supreme Court demanding that Housing Bridge cover his legal fees connected to the state and city investigations.
Leshinsky also said in the petition that he paid back his $3 million debt by transferring his for-profit company Bridge to Employment to Housing Bridge. Housing Bridge has reorganized the company as a nonprofit called Bridge to Employment of New York Inc.
The minutes from the Housing Bridge's Sept. 17, 2015, board meeting indeed show that members approved an independent valuation firm's $3 million appraisal of Leshinsky's Bridge to Employment.
However, Housing Bridge disputes Leshinsky's claim that he has settled his debt with the nonprofit.
Records also show that Housing Bridge submitted an insurance claim last month for a loss of $3 million that blames Leshinsky and his affiliated companies.
Leshinsky did not respond to a request for comment.
'RECOVER ANY AND ALL TAXPAYER DOLLARS'
Dept. of Homeless Services spokeswoman Nicole Cueto said her agency and the Mayor's Office of Contracts have worked with Housing Bridge and its former leadership for the past two years to review any conflicts of interest. She said after the review, the city established new protections that make the organization's spending more transparent.
“Every effort will be made to recover any and all taxpayer dollars per the city’s agreement with Housing Partners, while being careful not to interfere with ongoing investigations,” Cueto said. “The city acted swiftly and decisively because such misuse of city funding must not be tolerated.”
NEW LEADERSHIP
Some of Housing Bridge's staff and board members feel the nonprofit remains in a bad situation under its new leadership, according to sources.
After Leshinsky resigned as CEO, Housing Bridge's board replaced him with Judah Septimus, a Brooklyn lawyer and accountant who had previously been hired as counsel for Leshinsky's private firms and later for Housing Bridge to advise them on the state's nonprofit laws.
In his court petition, Leshinsky said Septimus, who also runs a real estate title company, is earning a $375,000 salary as the new CEO while only doing part-time work. 
At Housing Bridge's Sept. 17, 2015, board meeting, its members discussed how the nonprofit had to rely on loans from the city over the summer and into the fall to pay its staff and utilities because City Comptroller Scott Stringer's Office refused to register four of five of its contracts, cutting it off from millions of dollars.
Stringer's office wanted Housing Bridge to clear building and safety violations at its shelters before it would register the contracts. Records show that one of the contracts was registered in September. Two more were finally registered in December.  
Robert Mercurio, a lawyer representing Housing Bridge, said in a statement that the nonprofit has adopted new governance and accounting policies that comply with New York law. Since Leshinsky's departure, the nonprofit also elected four new board members, Mercurio said.
Mercurio also defended the city's decision to continue doing business with Housing Bridge.
"The contracts awarded by the city to [Housing Bridge] in July 2015 were awarded to the reorganized entity only after the city was satisfied that [Housing Bridge] was operating in full compliance with NY law and that Mr. Leshinsky had no association with it," Mercurio said.
Mercurio added that Leshinsky is no longer involved with the reorganized Bridge to Employment of New York.

De Blasio inaugural committee member exceeded campaign contribution limit


 Bill de Blasio’s campaign for mayor took in contributions exceeding legal limits from a member of his inaugural committee whose organization holds $168 million in contracts with the city.
As he ran for mayor last year, de Blasio took in $2,500 in contributions from Yitzchok Leshinsky, the head of a not-for-profit called Housing Bridge that runs shelters for the Department of Homeless Services.

Isaac Leshinsky, left. Photo courtesy Queens Chronicle
Under New York City campaign finance rules, executives of organizations that do business with the city are barred from donating more than $400 to a mayoral candidate.
Another stream of donations — all in compliance with campaign finance rules — flowed from Leshinsky’s household to de Blasio, records show. Leshinsky’s wife maxed out on her allowable contributions to the candidate with $4,950, and gave another $4,500 to his transition effort. Yitzchok Leshinsky also directed $2,500 in funds to de Blasio by bundling them as an intermediary.
In all, Leshinsky and his wife brought nearly $15,000 to the de Blasio cause, counting public matching funds from the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Leshinsky was also a financial backer of de Blasio’s 2009 winning bid for public advocate.
“There was no intent to violate any regulations and hopefully the campaign will refund the money,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who spoke on behalf of Leshinsky.
“The reason he donated is because he and Mr. de Blasio had been friends for a long period of time. And Mr. de Blasio looked like he had absolutely no shot at being the mayor at that point,” Sheinkopf added. “Mr. Leshinsky stood by his friend.”
A spokesperson from the de Blasio campaign said that if Yitzchok and Isaac Leshinsky were confirmed to be the same person, the portion of his contribution that was over the limit would be returned, as would the $175 the campaign obtained in public matching funds following the donation.
The spokesperson added that all contributions to the campaign had been checked against the official“Doing Business Database” listing high-ranking individuals at private firms who seek contracts with or lobby the city, and that when over-the-limit contributions were found the campaign promptly returned them.
The New York City Campaign Finance Board conducts its own review of donors in coordination with candidates to weed out those with business before the city. It, too, relies on the Doing Business Database for the review.
That review did not flag the contributions from Leshinsky, who does business with the city under the first name Isaac but made his contributions as Yitzchok.
A news release from the de Blasio transition announcing members of the inaugural committee listed him as Yitzchok “Isaac” Leshinsky.
“The CFB’s review process matches contributions to candidates against the City’s Doing Business Database, and in this instance that process did not identify a match,” Campaign Finance Board spokesperson Matthew Sollars said. “Following each citywide election, the CFB conducts a thorough review of its operations and makes changes as needed.”
Sollars said the pay-to-play restrictions on donations from city contractors are designed to reduce the possibility or perception that individuals who have a business relationship with the city can buy influence by making large campaign contributions.
Last month, de Blasio refunded $40,125 to donors, nearly half to individuals whose contributions had exceeded the limit set for contractors, bidders or lobbyists with business before the city.
Meanwhile, Leshinsky’s business with the city continues to grow. He founded and continues to advise a for-profit firm called Bridge to Employment, which occupies an office next door to Housing Bridge headquarters on Coney Island Ave.
This week, in a process initiated by the Bloomberg administration, the Department of Homeless Services announced that it was negotiating a $400,000 contract with Bridge to Employment to provide job-placement services for homeless shelter residents in the Bronx. Bridge to Employment’s pitch touted Leshinsky as a “pioneer and innovator” in the field of homeless services.