conflicts of interest

Developer Pays $10K to Settle De Blasio Dubious Donation Case

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his executive budget at City Hall, April 25, 2019.
Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his executive budget at City Hall, April 25, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Yet another developer Mayor Bill de Blasio hit up for a donation has agreed to settle an ethics investigation into a check written to the mayor’s now-defunct nonprofit, a state watchdog agency announced Wednesday.

Douglaston Development LLC will pay $10,000 to end the case brought by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). The commission previously reached settlements with three other major developers the mayor had solicited for contributions to his Campaign for One New York.

Entities that are lobbying City Hall for favorable treatment are prohibited from giving gifts to public officials — or to third parties designated by a public official. JCOPE was looking at the donations to the mayor’s nonprofit as illegal gifts.

As THE CITY revealed in May, de Blasio called a Douglaston executive a few weeks after City Hall transferred city-owned land to the developer and approved $12 million in financing for Crossroads Plaza — a project that involved building 425 units of affordable housing in Mott Haven.

The Crossroads Plaza development in The Bronx, May 28, 2019.
The Crossroads Plaza development in The Bronx, May 28, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In the settlement with JCOPE, Douglaston noted that within a week of the mayor’s February 2015 call, Ross Offinger — a longtime campaign aide for de Blasio and the chief fundraiser for the Campaign for One New York — contacted the executive and requested a $50,000 donation.

A few weeks later, the executive, who wasn’t identified, agreed to write a $25,000 check, according to the settlement.

The city Department of Investigation cited the mayor’s phone call to Douglaston in a probe disclosed by THE CITY that determined the mayor had violated city ethics rules by repeatedly soliciting checks from entities actively doing business with his City Hall.

DOI also tagged the mayor’s personal solicitations that yielded $25,000 from Toll Brothers Inc. and $50,000 from an affiliate of Greenpoint Landing Developers LLC.

At the time, both developers were actively seeking various favors from City Hall.

Douglaston released a statement Wednesday saying the company believed in the mission of the Campaign for One New York, and was unaware of any ethics issues at the time of the donation. “We fully cooperated with the Commission and we are pleased to have settled this matter without any finding or admission to a violation of law,” the statement said.

Mayor’s Fundraising Brought Change

After THE CITY disclosed the DOI finding that de Blasio broke ethics rules, the city Conflict of Interest Board changed its rules and said it would impose fines on city employees who solicit donations from entities actively doing business with City Hall.

JCOPE also was investigating the mayor’s fundraising for Campaign for One New York, looking at donations from Toll Brothers, the Greenpoint affiliate and another developer, Brookfield Financial Properties LP.

In September, the commission announced that all three other developers had settled ethics cases related to the checks written to the Campaign for One New York after receiving a call from the mayor. Brookfield agreed to pay $30,000, Toll Brothers agreed to pay $15,000 and Greenpoint agreed to pay $20,000, JCOPE said.

De Blasio’s money-raising tactics also were investigated by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney and the Manhattan District Attorney.

No criminal charges resulted from those probes, though the feds found the mayor directed aides to address requests by donors “who sought officials favors from the city.” The DA found de Blasio had violated the spirit of campaign finance laws meant to ensure equal access to City Hall.

A spokesperson for de Blasio did not immediately respond to THE CITY’s requests for comment.

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