A former deputy commissioner for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio intends to sue the city for at least $5 million, claiming he was “unlawfully” fired in part because he raised concerns that indicted Long Island restaurateur Harendra Singh, a deep-pocketed campaign donor, was receiving preferential treatment from the mayor’s office.
Singh, who was arrested by the FBI in 2015 on charges that he bribed a former Oyster Bay deputy town attorney, was the operator of the Water’s Edge restaurant, located on city property in Long Island City, Queens. He owed the city nearly $750,000 in overdue rent before his arrest, according to records.
Ricardo Morales, a former deputy commissioner for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, who was tasked with collecting the funds, filed a notice of claim with the city on May 22, advising officials of his plan to sue. In the notice, Morales, claims he was fired after complaining about possible conflicts of interest between de Blasio administration officials and “a popular restaurant in Queens commonly known as the Water’s Edge restaurant, which was owned by a politically connected donor.”
Morales’ two-page notice, which was first reported on by the New York Daily News on Saturday night, does not go into detail about the purported conflicts of interest, but his attorney, Robert D. Kraus, reached by email said the case “comes down to the rule of law versus City Hall.”
“We have a very big problem in New York City if the Mayor’s office is allowed to fire career civil servants for standing up to its unseemly pay to play culture and for otherwise doing their job honestly and with integrity,” Kraus wrote.
In February, de Blasio administration officials fired Morales, who in 2015 signed off on paperwork lifting the deed restrictions on Rivington House, a Lower East Side nursing home. The move allowed the property owner to sell the health care facility and its land to a high-end condo developer, spurring complaints from local community groups.
Morales also alleges in his notice that he was fired because he complained about “City Hall’s lack of truthfulness regarding the lifting of Deed restrictions on Rivington House.”
De Blasio refused to answer questions about Morales’ pending lawsuit when asked by reporters during two events in Brooklyn on Sunday.
The mayor’s spokesman, Eric Phillips, in an email statement said: “Members of this administration have acted appropriately and there’s never been a credible suggestion or shred of evidence to the contrary.” In March, federal prosecutors dropped a yearlong probe into de Blasio’s campaign finance dealings, which is said to have included close scrutiny of Singh’s donations.
Singh, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges stemming from his 2015 arrest, raised some $54,600 for de Blasio’s re-election bid, according to a Newsday analysis of campaign finance data that included money donated by Singh; his wife; his father, Rajesh; his mother, Rajeshwari; and people Singh bundled contributions from as a fundraising intermediary.
Singh’s attorney, Anthony M. La Pinta, said in an email: “My focus at this time is defending Mr. Singh’s federal indictment. Once his case is concluded, I will comment on Ricardo Morales’ Notice of Claim and Mayor de Blasio’s alleged involvement in the Water’s Edge lease.”