Wednesday, July 4, 2012

NY Times and Daily News Weigh In on AG Smack-down of EDC

The NY Times in the person of Ray Rivera, the reporter whose stories helped to initiate the three year investigation by the NYS AG, has weighed in on the historic smack-down of a mayoral agency:

"The city’s economic development agency and two other organizations have admitted that they illegally lobbied on behalf of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plans to redevelop two long-neglected areas in Queens and Brooklyn, the state attorney general said on Tuesday."

Importantly, the groups involved acknowledged their wrongdoing-actions that played a key role in advancing the city's development schemes: "In a settlement with the attorney general late Monday, the three groups acknowledged crossing the line and agreed to several steps toward reform. “These local development corporations flouted the law by lobbying elected officials, both directly and through third parties, to win approval of their favored projects,” Mr. Schneiderman said."

Making the NYC EDC's role that much more nefarious was the fact that they hid what they were doing-and when exposed-blatantly lied about their key role in the subterfuge; a significant badge of fraud in our view: "The office of the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, found that the Economic Development Corporation “played a behind-the-scenes role in the lobbying activities” of the other two groups to the City Council. The findings came with no civil or criminal penalties."

And that's the rub because the illegal scheme had real world consequences (not to mention hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars) owing to the fact that the Shulman LDC was comprised of no real grass roots organizations-only developers who were in a position to benefit lucratively from the conspiracy. AG Schneiderman, in our view, should have gone the extra step at interdicting the development's forward progress-particularly because of the windfall that is awaiting Sterling Equities and the Mets. The Times cites our own blog on this point:

“What the attorney general has done is to tar the city’s chief economic development agency with illegal lobbying — and by doing so calls into question the legality of the entire Willets Point development scheme,” it wrote."

If the issue of fraud and conspiracy was in doubt the Times removes it with the following evidence from the EDC files: "In one example of the agency’s efforts behind the scenes, the investigation found that its officials had drafted a letter to City Council members but directed the Willets Point group to use its fax machine to send it. In the words of an employee, the agency “felt this letter coming from our fax machine would have been lobbying.”

The Daily News makes similar points-but goes further in crediting the role of WPU in the successful culmination of the AG's probe: "Two city economic development agencies have admitted to illegally lobbying the City Council to support a plan to overhaul gritty Willets Point...The agreement validates years of complaints from Willets Point business owners who charged the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC and specifically its president, Claire Shulman, curried favor for a plan to take properties through eminent domain."

The News also cites WPU's complaint about the leniency of the AG's outcome: "Members of Willets Point United said sanctions should have been harsher. “There was a crime committed here,” said Willets Point United President Gerald Antonacci. “People ran for the hills when they were threatened with eminent domain. A lot of people who sold their properties would have never have sold it.”

This rather shocking outcome will add to the questions about the legitimacy of the new direction that the city is taken at Willets Point-with some observers commenting about the unfair favoritism accorded Sterling Equities. As the Times Ledger reports:

"The winners of a bid to redevelop Willets Point may have had a leg up on the competition, although the city said the selection process was completely unbiased...But there was one component of the plan that no one had seen before, not even the other developers who bid on the roughly $3 billion project.

When the city released its request for proposals in May 2011, it was seeking developers to build in a precisely defined area along 126th Street across from Citi Field.

The Sterling and Related plan calls for development within the boundaries defined in the RFP, but it also features another 1 million-square-foot retail and entertainment block to the west of the stadium."

In other words the fix was in-adding additional fuel to an already tainted project that has all the earmarks of corruption that we would have never expected to emerge from the administration of a billionaire mayor who touted himself as above tawdry politics.