Former Mayor Bill de Blasio has been ordered to cough up nearly $475,000 by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) for improperly billing New York taxpayers for his NYPD security detail’s out-of-state travel expenses during a failed 2019 presidential bid.
The board ruled that de Blasio had violated the City Charter by using “city resources for private purposes,” having city taxpayers pick up the tab for an NYPD security detail on 31 out-of-state trips that either he or his wife, Chirlane McCray, took in connection with his presidential campaign between May and September 2019. De Blasio — who left office at the end of 2021 — has been ordered to pay back the $319,794 incurred by his detail’s travel expenses and an additional $155,000 fine, the largest fine in COIB history, according to a release.
“When a public servant uses City resources for private purposes, it erodes the public’s trust and makes City government less efficient,” the board said in a statement.
In its decision, the board said de Blasio’s counsel to the mayor had approached COIB before he launched his campaign and asked whether the city could pay the costs for his security detail while campaigning for president. The board responded that the city could properly pay for the officers’ salary and overtime, but not their travel expenses.
De Blasio launched his campaign the day after the board rendered its decision.
“The Board advised Respondent…prior to his campaign; Respondent disregarded the Board’s advice,” the board said.
COIB’s finding followed a 2021 city Department of Investigation (DOI) report that found de Blasio owed the city $320,000 for NYPD security during his campaign trips to Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and Illinois — a sum he reportedly refused to pay back. DOI’s report was a result of an investigation it launched into the costs incurred by de Blasio’s security detail a few months after he launched his campaign.
In a statement, DOI Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber said the board’s finding “reaffirms” the agency’s investigation.
“The Conflicts of Interest Board’s conclusions regarding former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s misuse of his security detail reaffirms DOI’s investigative findings, and shows that public officials — including the most senior — will be held accountable when they violate the rules,” Strauber said.
At the time de Blasio characterized the report as inaccurate and said he was following the NYPD’s advice “to the letter.”
Andrew Celli Jr., an attorney for de Blasio, sang a similar tune in a statement following COIB’s decision Thursday that called the ruling “reckless and arbitrary” and announced the former mayor has filed a suit to prevent it from taking effect. Celli characterized the decision as an “affront” to the NYPD and said it “undermines” city officials’ ability to travel safely outside the five boroughs.
“In a time of unprecedented threats of political violence, the COIB’s reckless and arbitrary ruling threatens the safety and security of our democratically-elected public servants,” Celli said.
Additionally, Celli argues that the decision is unconstitutional and would put elected officials following incidents over the last decade like the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol and the shootings of former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona and Congress Member Steve Scalise (R-LA) at risk. He also said that the ruling would saddle officials with costs the city has “properly borne for decades.”
“With today’s decision, the COIB has broken with decades of NYPD policy and precedent, ignored the professional expertise of the greatest law enforcement agency in the world, and violated the Constitution to boot,” he said. “In the wake of the January 6th insurrection, the shootings of Congressmembers Giffords and Scalise, and almost daily threats directed at local leaders around the country, the COIB’s action — which seeks to saddle elected officials with security costs that the City has properly borne for decades — is dangerous, beyond the scope of their powers, and illegal.”