The Real Deal New York

City fires official who lifted deed restriction at Rivington House

Administration axes head of DCAS hours after de Blasio met with federal investigators
February 27, 2017 10:30AM

From left: Bill de Blasio, Rivington House and Ricardo Morales

Hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio met Friday with federal investigators probing the Rivington House scandal, his administration fired the city official who approved lifting the deed restriction on the property in 2015.

On Friday evening, officials fired Citywide Department of Administrative Services deputy commissioner Ricardo Morales and escorted him from the agency’s offices in Lower Manhattan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A spokesperson for de Blasio referred questions to DCAS spokesperson Cathy Hanson, who said the agency was “moving forward with several leadership changes and some restructuring designed to improve our efficiency and performance.”

“These changes have been in the works for some time and have nothing to do with the mayor’s or City Hall’s cooperation with the U.S. Attorney,” Hanson added.

Just hours before Morales was let go, federal prosecutors from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office interviewed de Blasio. Morales in 2015 signed off on removing a deed restriction on Rivington House, a Lower East Side nursing home that had served HIV/AIDS patients.

But Morales’ attorney said his client was being used “as a scapegoat” by the mayor.

“His firing was clearly political payback despite the fact that my client has done nothing wrong and was used as a scapegoat by the mayor,” attorney Guy Oksenhendler said.

“My client is a son of NYC and an exemplary civil servant having dedicated much of his adult life working for city government,” he added. “He always did everything appropriately and by the book.”

The Allure Group TRData LogoTINY, which specializes in nursing homes, bought Rivington House from operator Village Care for $28 million in February 2015. That May, Allure agreed to pay the city $16.15 million to lift the deed restriction.

Allure then sold the property to Slate Property Group, China Vanke and Adam America Real Estate for $116 million.

A report by city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office found that Allure representatives informed city officials of their plans to sell the building to a real estate developer, but there was no evidence that the mayor was aware the deed restriction was being lifted. [WSJ]Rich Bockmann