The inside story of a troubled lease and a de Blasio donor with access to City Hall

Investigation uncovers the lengths to which the mayor went to appease restaurateur Harendra Singh, one of his earliest mayoral campaign contributors

New York /
Jul.July 25, 2017 02:55 PM

Shortly after the March sacking of U.S. Attorney Preet Bahrara, his acting successor, Joon Kim, announced that the Southern District of New York would not pursue any corruption charges against Mayor Bill de Blasio. But the story doesn’t end there.

A new investigation from the New York Times details the transactional relationship the mayor had with Harendra Singh, an early de Blasio donor and restaurateur who was arrested two years ago on charges of bribing a public official on Long Island.

In June of 2014, Singh approached de Blasio at a fundraising event and asked him to do something about the city’s lease for his restaurant, a barge joint on the East River in Queens called Water’s Edge.

Singh, one of only 21 people to give then-Public Advocate de Blasio a $2,500 campaign contribution in 2010, was facing arrears and late rent charges from the city totaling $1.2 million. He was also in need of a renewal for the lease, which was set to expire in 2017.

Singh first told then-Public Advocate de Blasio about his problem in 2011, but brought it up again three years later at the $1,000-per couple fundraiser for congressman Steve Israel. Emails obtained by the Times show that the very same night, the mayor’s office organized a meeting between Singh and Stacey Cumberbatch, who at the time was the commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the city agency that administers leases on city-owned land.

Cumberbatch’s attorney, Jim Walden, also says the mayor made a personal call to Cumberbatch to ask that the meeting would take place.

That was the beginning of 15 months of meetings and progress reports arranged by City Hall — emails show that Singh was in touch with de Blasio’s office on “almost a daily basis.” According to Ricardo Morales, then deputy commissioner at DCAS, Singh insisted that because he was an important donor to the Mayor, the city should strike a deal with him.

Singh was indeed offered something of a deal: the city agreed to lower his monthly rent payments, but Singh was struggling to secure the funds and so his cooperation did not last. The city sued him.

Singh then complained about Morales, telling City Hall that he was not civil during the negotiations. DCAS then proposed lowering the amount of money Singh was expected to pay for construction costs to the East River pier to $2 million from $3.1 million. That didn’t sit well with Singh, whose lobbyist jumped from his seat, Morales claims, and said, “This is not good. I guess you didn’t get the memo from City Hall.”

The negotiations were then removed from the jurisdiction of DCAS and continued at City Hall proper, where a $1.5 million settlement was drafted. Then Singh was arrested in Long Island.

“I think it is normal for an elected official to receive concerns from people and pass them along for an agency to assess,” de Blasio said after federal prosecutors decided not to bring charges against him this March. “That’s how we have done things. That’s how we will continue to do things.”

Morales was fired in February, the same day de Blasio was questioned by the FBI. Morales has since said he will sue the city for $5 million.

Singh’s Restaurant Has Since Closed And A State Supreme Court Judge has ordered his company to pay more than $6 million to the city, which it has yet to collect. [NYT]Will Parker


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