Pinnacle sues Stringer over tenant conversations

TRD New York /
Jun.June 23, 2008 03:20 PM

The Pinnacle Group filed a lawsuit against Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in New York State Supreme Court this month to force his office to release records of his communications with tenants who filed a federal lawsuit against the controversial real estate company.

Pinnacle sued on June 13, less than a year after a tenants’ organization and 10 residents filed a lawsuit in Manhattan U.S. District Court against Joel Wiener’s Pinnacle Group alleging deceptive practices, harassment and racketeering.

Pinnacle has denied the charges, and moved in November to have the case dismissed. The judge has yet to rule on the motion.

The Manhattan-based real estate giant owns more than 21,000 rent-regulated apartments in about 420 buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Pinnacle sued Stringer, as well as Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, after Stringer criticized the company in a public conference call on July 11, 2007, by saying: “The name Pinnacle is just simply a code word for mass eviction.”
Wiener’s company filed a Freedom of Information Law request in October to review Stringer’s records supporting that comment, including information from a housing workshop and public hearing; as well as the communications with the tenant plaintiffs in the federal suit.

Stringer’s spokeswoman, Carmen Boon, said in an email that his office did not release all the documents Pinnacle requested because many were exempt from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. Asked if Stringer would turn them over, she responded that the documents were exempt, but that Pinnacle had the right to sue for them in court.

An attorney for Pinnacle declined to comment. Stringer and Gotbaum did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kim Powell, one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit and a Pinnacle tenant in Harlem, said the company wanted to obtain the information to get a leg up to fight the tenants’ case alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.

“Knowing what was said and what is on the record sort of gives them a heads up of our legal strategy,” she said. “This is another form of harassment and intimidation.”

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the city Department of Housing and Community Renewal struck a deal with Pinnacle in late 2006 that allowed an independent investigator to review the firm’s records, following state investigations of allegations of tenant harassment.

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