De Blasio: Donor lied about bribes to save himself

New York Post, January 26, 2018

Pete Katz consulted on de Blasio comments, offers expertise as former prosecutor

Just because a former supporter pleaded guilty to bribing him doesn’t mean it really happened, Mayor de Blasio claimed Friday.

In a stunning WNYC interview, de Blasio denied sworn admissions by former Queens restaurant owner Harendra Singh that he poured tens of thousands of dollars into the mayor’s campaign in exchange for official favors.

“This guy, to save his own skin, struck a plea deal with the federal prosecutors,” de Blasio said.

“He agreed to certain charges for his own self-preservation. But I’ve been 100 percent consistent: What he said happened did not happen, period.”

Singh — a cooperating witness in the federal corruption case against former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano — made the bribery allegation at a closed court proceeding in 2016. His statement was made public Wednesday.

He admitted donating and raising campaign cash for de Blasio so the mayor and other city officials would arrange a lease renewal for his Long Island City restaurant “on terms that were favorable to me.”

When WNYC host Brian Lehrer said de Blasio was “saying something pretty damning about the justice system . . . that people wind up pleading guilty to things they didn’t do,” the mayor suggested Lehrer get legal experts to explain “how plea bargains work and how prosecution works.”

One such expert, Fordham Law professor Jim Cohen, said false guilty pleas were “very unusual, and it’s even more unusual to have a federal prosecutor complicit with it — and that’s what the mayor is saying.”

“In an allocution in federal court, they really make you state what you did, and when you meet with them previously, they ask you what you did,” he said.

“And if you lie to them, they’re not going to get in bed with you.”

Former Justice Department prosecutor Peter Katz said de Blasio offered a “flippant assessment” by failing to distinguish routine, low-level cases from closely scrutinized, high-stakes ones.

“Particularly in a case like this, they’re going to jump through a lot of hoops to verify what they’re being told,” Katz said.

After a few minutes on the subject Friday, de Blasio declared to Lehrer that he was through discussing the corruption allegations that continue dogging him.

“When there’s been a full investigation and we’ve answered a thousand times, it’s time to stop talking about it,” he said. “So I got nothin’ else to say on that.”

It was the second time de Blasio denied claims made against him under oath in federal court.

In October, another cooperating witness, Jona Rechnitz, testified that he and de Blasio spoke “at least” once a week after Rechnitz began funneling about $160,000 into de Blasio’s campaign, his nonprofit and a bid to help Democrats win control of the state Senate.

De Blasio called Rechnitz’s ­allegations “just preposterous.”

On WNYC Friday, de Blasio stressed that prosecutors didn’t bring charges against him or aides “because there was nothing there.”

City and court records show that despite owing the city $1.7 million in rent and penalties, Singh in 2014 and 2015 sought a new lease on his restaurant Water’s Edge, which sat on city-owned land in Long Island City.

Ricardo Morales, a former deputy commissioner at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, claims de Blasio aides pressured the agency to cut a deal favorable to Singh and took over talks when the DCAS resisted.

Those talks ended when Singh — who donated and bundled more than $38,000 for de Blasio between 2010 and 2013 — was busted in September 2015.

Singh pleaded guilty to three felonies involving de Blasio — conspiracy, bribery and honest- services fraud.

Singh’s lawyer, Anthony La Pinta, said his client stood by his words.

“Mr. Singh pleaded guilty to his crimes because he is, in fact, guilty of those crimes,” he said.

Reps for the federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and Manhattan declined to comment. Central Islip federal Judge Sandra Feuerstein, who accepted Singh’s plea, didn’t return a call from The Post.