Legal fees to defend Mayor Bill de Blasio from a criminal investigation into his dealings with corrupt donors is costing taxpayers at least $2.6 million — and more bills are still to come.
The $2,627,500, no-bid contract is with the midtown Manhattan firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel LLP “in connection with an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and related work,” according to a notice published Friday in The City Record, the government’s procurement newsletter.
No charges were brought against de Blasio, a Democrat, in connection with the criminal probe, which examined whether his political donors received favorable treatment in exchange for contributions.
The office of the acting U.S. attorney at the time, Joon Kim, identified “several circumstances” in which the mayor “made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies” on behalf of donors seeking “official favors . . . after which the mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of those donors.”
Kim’s office cited a high legal bar — in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court set stricter standards for the government to charge public officials with wrongdoing — in declining to prosecute the mayor or his team.
Last week, a court transcript from 2016 was unsealed in advance of the corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano showing that de Blasio’s longtime donor, Harendra Singh, had secretly pleaded guilty to trying to bribe a city official — whose dealings are consistent with those of de Blasio — and bribing Mangano and the former Oyster Bay Town supervisor, John Venditto.
Singh said that in exchange for the donations, de Blasio’s team helped him arrange more favorable terms on a restaurant lease on city-owned property.
Criminal probes also examined de Blasio’s dealings with other donors, including Jona Rechnitz, a wealthy Los Angeles real estate investor’s son. He testified that he made contributions to de Blasio and others and got numerous favors in return. He has pleaded guilty in connection with a federal corruption investigation.
In 2017, the mayor insisted that he would not charge taxpayers for the legal bills to handle state and federal probes into his fundraising tactics. But he changed his mind after the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board ruled that if he set up a legal-defense fund, he’d need to adhere to donation caps regulated by some of the toughest campaign-finance laws in the nation.
In addition to the contract with Kramer Levin, announced Friday, “several . . . more” contracts are in the works for legal services, de Blasio’s spokesman Eric Phillips emailed Friday evening. The dollar amounts and firm names were not disclosed.
With John Riley