DID SHE LIE UNDER ORDERS?: While Administrative Services Commissioner Lisette Camilo (left) told a City Council hearing three years ago that she fired Deputy Commissioner Ricardo Morales (right) for poor performance, a Federal Magistrate in Manhattan wrote that an email string she ordered released in connection with his wrongful-termination lawsuit indicated that it ‘was, in fact, related to Rivington,’ a real-estate transaction that came under Federal scrutiny.
Federal Judge in Manhattan stated in a recent ruling that an email exchange between de Blasio administration officials indicated that Commissioner of Administrative Services Lisette Camillo falsely claimed that a fired whistleblower was terminated based on performance after her superiors ordered her to deny it had anything to do with his testimony to Federal prosecutors.
On March 13, 2017, less than three weeks after former Deputy Commissioner Ricardo Morales was fired, Ms. Camilo told a City Council hearing that his discharge had “nothing to do with Rivington,” referring to a longtime hospice for AIDS patients known as Rivington House that the previous year had been “flipped” at a $72-million profit to a developer after city officials revoked two deeds.
Lifting restrictions contained in those documents allowed the site to be used for purposes other than health care.
Seeks $5M in Wages, Damages
Mr. Morales has claimed in a wrongful-termination suit seeking $5 million in lost wages and damages that he was fired for giving truthful testimony to investigators for the U.S. Attorney’s Office about the Rivington House transaction and another one in which he was removed from negotiating a deal on back rent owed by restaurateur Harendra Singh—a fundraiser and campaign contributor to Mr. de Blasio—because he wasn’t generous as his superiors wanted.
Manhattan Federal Court Magistrate Debra Freeman last December ordered the public disclosure of an email thread between two senior mayoral officials sought by Mr. Morales’s lawyer as part of the discovery process for his lawsuit.
In that thread, then-mayoral Press Secretary Eric Phillips asked Jon Paul Lupo, who at the time was Mr. de Blasio’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, “Did Lisette really say morales firing wasn’t related to rivington?”
Mr. Lupo replied, “Yes. That’s what we were told she had to say for legal reasons.”
Magistrate Freeman in her ruling ordering release of the emails stated that they suggested Mr. Morales’s termination “was, in fact, related to Rivington, but that officials senior to Camilo had told her that she ‘had to say’ otherwise.”
Timing No Coincidence?
Mr. Morales has noted in his lawsuit that he was fired Feb. 24, 2017, a few hours after the Mayor was interviewed by prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan regarding his fund-raising practices. Three weeks later, a decision was made not to bring charges against him—even though prosecutors concluded he had violated the “spirit” of the city’s Campaign Finance Law—for reasons that included a U.S. Supreme Court ruling the previous year that made it more difficult to successfully bring public-corruption cases.
As part of a separate investigation, Mr. Singh pleaded guilty to prosecutors in Brooklyn representing the Eastern District of New York to paying bribes to both Mr. de Blasio and then-Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano for help with his businesses. The U.S. Attorney there, in explaining why Mr. Mangano was tried and convicted last year but no charges were brought against the Mayor, said the bribes to Mr. Mangano went directly to him and his wife, while the payments to Mr. de Blasio were made to his campaign fund and another one he created to promote political causes.
City Councilman Ben Kallos, who was one of the Council Members who questioned Ms. Camilo about the firing of Mr. Morales three years ago, told the New York Post that he was “deeply disappointed in the administration for lying under oath and for doing so with knowledge and willfully.”
Robert Kraus, Mr. Morales’s attorney, said in a Feb. 4 phone interview that he recently deposed Mr. Lupo and another ranking City Hall aide, Dominic Williams, who has worked for Mr. de Blasio dating back to his days as Public Advocate. At the time of the Rivington House transaction, Mr. Williams was Chief of Staff to then-First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris; he subsequently became Chief Policy Adviser to Mr. de Blasio.
The administration has continued to insist that Mr. Morales’s firing was based on poor performance.
Wants to Question Others
Mr. Kraus, who said the email exchange exposed the “false narrative” the administration looked to create to cover up its true reason for firing Mr. Morales—who won an Ethics in Government Award a decade ago from the Conflicts of Interest Board for his work as a top Housing Authority official—said he was still looking to depose Mr. Shorris, former de Blasio Communications Director Karen Hinton, and Chief of Staff Emma Wolfe.
It was Ms. Wolfe, who was then Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, who was tapped to complete negotiations with Mr. Singh on a significant reduction in the $747,000 in back rent and taxes that he owed the city on his Long Island City restaurant, Water’s Edge, after an offer by Mr. Morales did not satisfy him and his attorney. Before the tentative deal Ms. Wolfe reached with him could be finalized, Mr. Singh was indicted by prosecutors in Brooklyn.