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ALBANY — The state Board of Elections found that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his political team committed “willful and flagrant violations” of campaign-finance laws in efforts to oust Republican senators and referred the matter for criminal prosecution, according to an internal memo.
In a letter to the board in January, the election board’s chief investigator Risa Sugarman said de Blasio conspired with a hotel union, a teachers union and political consultants to channel at least $971,000 in 2014 to three upstate Democratic Senate candidates and skirt campaign-finance laws.
The mayor’s team directed donations to be funneled through certain political committees to mask the source and then sent the money on to the candidates. One check included the notation “donation per mayor” in the memo line.
Sugarman recommended the matter be sent to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for prosecution, saying “reasonable cause exists” to “investigate any indictable offense.” The state board unanimously voted to make the criminal referral, a source said.
Sugarman said Emma Wolfe, an aide to de Blasio, helped coordinate the effort to funnel the donations.
De Blasio spokeswoman Karen Hinton said, “Wolfe is a highly-regarded public servant whose integrity should not be in question. She followed the letter of the law. We are confident that all of our efforts were appropriate and in accordance with the law at all times. The mayor’s office will cooperate fully with the investigations.”
Federal officials already are probing campaign-finance issues in de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign. The investigation is scrutinizing donations to a nonprofit set up for de Blasio to further his policy agenda, sources have said.
De Blasio was front and center of the Democrats’ efforts to regain control of the State Senate in 2014. He not only pushed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to pledge to help Democrats but also sought to raise money for the effort.
The mayor “coordinated” efforts to help then-state Sens. Cecilia Tkaczyk and Terry Gipson, and Justin Wagner in three races spanning districts from Schenectady to the Mid-Hudson Valley, Sugarman said.
In doing so, de Blasio likely crossed the legal line, Sugarman concluded.
“Documents were obtained via subpoena from five political consultants involved in these campaigns,” Sugarman wrote to the state Board of Elections. “Thousands of documents were produced. Review of the documents revealed evidence of campaigns that were coordinated at every level and down to minute detail.”
Tkaczyk, Gipson and Wagner could not be reached for comment.
Sugarman said “Team de Blasio” worked with the New York Hotel Trades Council and the United Federation of Teachers to generate contributions to the candidates’ or local county campaign committees, and with several political consulting companies to coordinate campaign efforts.
County committees are subject to significantly higher donation limits than individual candidates.
“The entire fundraising and campaign operation was run from City Hall by de Blasio’s staff in coordination with unions and Campaign for One New York officers and political consultants,” Sugarman wrote.
Campaign for One New York is a de Blasio campaign committee. Some of the consultants have ties to the mayor.
Sugarman, who was appointed by Cuomo, said the effort included “straw donors” who were used to hide the fact that campaign-contribution limits were violated.
Unions including 32BJ United, which represents maintenance and cleaning workers, security officers and others, the Communications Workers of America and the New York state Nurses Association were among those that gave money to county committees they hadn’t before 2014.
None of the unions mentioned by Sugarman could be reached for comment Friday.
Sugarman also said the three Senate candidates should have reported, in their campaign-finance statements, that “individuals from the de Blasio team” were working on their behalf.
That is supposed to be reported as an “in-kind” contribution, the memo said. Failing to do so constitutes the crime of “offering a false instrument” and falsifying business records.
“I have determined that reasonable cause exists to believe a violation warranting a criminal prosecution has taken place,” Sugarman wrote. “The violations discovered by this investigation can only be described as willful and flagrant.”
Reached Friday, Sugarman declined to comment.
For weeks, de Blasio has been buffeted by the widening investigation into his campaign finances. The mayor has neither been charged with any crime nor accused of any wrongdoing.
Several governmental agencies, including the city comptroller, the city Department of Investigation, the NYPD, the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York are probing one or more aspects of activities involving de Blasio, his causes, donors or some combination.
Two businessmen involved in the Campaign for One New York probe first came to investigators’ attention as an outgrowth of a separate probe into police brass being paid with cash, jewelry, tickets to sporting events and travel.
In return, the brass were expected to provide protection for businesses and the assurance of extra policing in Brooklyn’s Borough Park section for community happenings, including street events during Jewish holidays, according to sources.
With Matthew Chayes and Michael Gormley