City Forced to Hand over Rivington Documents After Threat of Legal Action

Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer).

After the Department of Investigation gave the city an ultimatum—hand over the documents and computers related to Rivington House or face legal action—City Hall has finally handed over the records.

The DOI released a scathing report earlier this month in which it determined that the mayor’s administration was “aware of and involved” in the city’s internal discussions over the decision to lift deed restrictions on nonprofit AIDS hospice Rivington House. The deregulation allowed the Allure Group, which purchased the property, to convert it to luxury condominiums. The report also noted that the Law Department had not remanded all the documents the department requested, even though City Hall maintained that it handed over the relevant records and that they were legally allowed to decline to hand over documents and computers irrelevant to the DOI’s investigation.

But last Tuesday, DOI Commissioner Mark Peters gave the agency the green light to start litigation if the city Law Department failed to give the agency the records it requested. And last Thursday, the DOI sent a letter to Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter explaining that the agency will start legal proceedings against the Law Department if it does not hand over the records under Executive Order 16.

“The Law Department’s compliance reaffirms the statutory powers of DOI as set out in EO16 and its access to City records,” Peters said in a statement. “I am pleased that the Law Department decided to comply with the law. And, I am proud of the DOI staff who doggedly pursued access to these records so DOI can fully investigate the matter at hand.”

Peters served as de Blasio’s 2013 campaign treasurer, and recused himself from the investigation, but not from wider issue concerning enforcement of the agency’s statutory powers.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has maintained that the mistake made by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services was due to an old policy that preceded his administration, characterizing the city’s actions as a “mistake” and a “lack of communication.” He also acknowledged the tension between the DOI and the Law Department but rejected the assertion that City Hall did not hand over the requested records.

The city received $16 million from the developer after it lifted two deed restrictions mandating that the facility be operated as a nonprofit and as a nursing home. The report revealed that consultant James Capalino—a donor and bundler to the mayor’s campaign and a lobbyist for VillageCare, the original owner of Rivington House—was in regular contact with DCAS about getting the deed restriction lifted.

In the letter to Carter, the DOI said it proved that records the Law Department redacted and claimed were not relevant did indeed have evidence relevant to the agency’s investigation. After several days of discussion, the Law Department delivered thousands of pages of unredacted documents to DOI, which the Law Department had insisted were not relevant.

Eric Phillips, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, stressed that the city did more than it was legally required to do.

“As a result of a DOI review that City Hall asked for, the Law Department has now provided access and information significantly above our legal obligation and far beyond any useful scope of DOI’s review,” Phillips said in a statement. “With DOI finding no criminal wrongdoing, our attention remains focused on the series of reforms the mayor has launched to ensure a case like Rivington can never happen again.”

The release of the demanded documents comes after Queens Councilman Rory Lancman called on the DOI to take the de Blasio administration to state court to compel the administration to hand over the documents and computers. He perceived the agency’s inaction as a sign of Peters’ conflict of interest. Comptroller Scott Stringer has also said he will be announcing the results of his Rivington House investigation will be coming out “very shortly.”

And Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin have introduced legislation that would require deed restrictions to undergo the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, seen as an attempt to take the power to lift or modify deed restrictions away from the mayor and into the hands of the City Council.

This story has been updated to include a comment from the mayor’s office.

City Forced to Hand over Rivington Documents After Threat of Legal Action