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Official Demoted Amid Federal Probe of de Blasio Admin Settles for $200K

A former city official said a federal probe of Mayor Bill de Blasio's fundraising tactics cost her half her salary.
A former city official said a federal probe of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraising tactics cost her half her salary. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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A former city official allegedly punished for complaining an underling was promoted for protecting the de Blasio administration during a federal pay-to-play probe has struck a $200,000 settlement with the city, documents show.

Geneith Turnbull, a former deputy commissioner of the Office of Citywide Procurement, filed a lawsuit against the city and her old boss, Department of Citywide Administrative Services Commissioner Lisette Camilo, in January 2018.

Turnbull contends she was demoted — with her salary sliced from $199,000 to just over $91,000 — after she repeatedly protested a 20% raise given to one of her subordinates, Anson Telford.

Feds Probed Donations

Turnbull said Telford’s October 2016 raise — to $132,500 — came shortly after he was interviewed by City Hall lawyers amid a Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation of a contract awarded to a big-dollar mayoral donor.

Turnbull “was demoted and her salary drastically reduced because she reported, complained, objected and protested … that the huge salary increase granted to Mr. Telford was unlawful and in fact a reward for protecting the current de Blasio administration in connection with an on-going corruption investigation by federal officials,” her federal court complaint says.

Geneith Turnbull says she was retaliated against for pointing out a subordinate's questionable raise.
Geneith Turnbull says she was retaliated against for pointing out a subordinate’s questionable raise. Photo: Courtesy of Samuel O. Maduegbuna, Esq.

The probe was part of a wider federal investigation of contributions to the mayor’s now-defunct nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, and contracts and other benefits received by donors.

Joseph Dussich, owner of Queens-based JAD Corporation, gave $100,000 to the non-profit just months before being granted a trial Parks Department contract in early 2015 for mint-scented trash bags designed to repel rodents.

He was later awarded a contract worth at least $3 million through Turnbull’s agency, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

Turnbull’s subordinates helped procure the trash bags for the Parks Department contract — which is why Telford was interviewed by City Hall lawyers, according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court.

Federal officials said de Blasio had steered requests from donors toward the relevant city agencies, but the investigation was closed in March 2017 with no charges filed.

Still, a Department of Investigation probe concluded last year found the mayor’s solicitation of contributions for his nonprofit from individuals and corporations with business before his administration violated city ethics rules.

Telford, who couldn’t be reached for comment, told the New York Post last year, “I didn’t protect anybody.”

Turnbull, who is 56 and black, also claimed in her suit that her demotion was discriminatory “on the basis of age and race.”

‘Considerable Merit’ to Case

Under the terms of the settlement, Turnbull was awarded a $100,000 payout, plus $100,000 in backpay that counts toward her pension.

She agreed to retire effective July 19, 2019, while the city agreed to scrub any references to her demotion from city records.

Law Department spokesperson Nick Paolucci said city officials believe they’ve succeeded at fostering an inclusive environment at DCAS.

“These allegations had no merit and could not be supported; however, all the parties have agreed that this settlement was in their best interests to put an end to longstanding, time-consuming and costly litigation,” he said.

But Turnbull’s attorney, Samuel Maduegbuna, countered that his client’s claims obviously have “considerable merit” given what he described as the favorable terms of the settlement.

The Water's Edge restaurant in Long Island City in 2015.
The Water’s Edge restaurant in Long Island City in 2015. Photo: Jeanmarie Evelly/DNAinfo

“The city and its Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) have a long and well-documented history of discriminatory and retaliatory practices against dedicated career public servants, such as Ms. Geneith Turnbull,” he said. “To the extent that the city continues to view such claims as without merit, it fails in its equal employment opportunity obligations.”

Second Suit Ongoing

Turnbull’s lawsuit also cited the February 2017 termination of former DCAS Deputy Commissioner Ricardo Morales — who also filed a lawsuit claiming retaliation by the de Blasio administration in an unrelated case of alleged favorable treatment to a donor — and the demotions of two other colleagues.

Morales alleged in a 2018 Manhattan federal court filing that he was removed from a team negotiating a DCAS lease with restaurateur Harendra Singh, a longtime de Blasio donor, after he refused to provide Singh with special treatment.

Singh pleaded guilty in Long Island federal court in 2016 to bribery, admitting his donations were intended to influence City Hall’s treatment of his now-shuttered Queens establishment, Water’s Edge.

Morales also claimed his termination came as retaliation for his objections to the city’s public explanation for how a Lower East Side nursing home came to be sold to a luxury developer under City Hall’s nose.

Morales said he made his objections known to high-ranking City Hall officials during preparations for testimony at a City Council hearing in September 2016 on the site known as Rivington House.

Morales’ lawsuit against the city is ongoing.

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