A spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that his administration “acted appropriately” in the handling of the lease of a Queens restaurant to indicted Long Island restaurateur Harendra Singh, but declined to comment further on a newly reported federal probe of the matter.
Singh of Laurel Hollow already faces federal charges on Long Island that he bribed a Town of Oyster Bay employee to get loan guarantees for two food concessions, and fraudulently collected $1 million in superstorm Sandy disaster aid for the Queens restaurant, Water’s Edge, which closed last year.
De Blasio got over $50,000 in political donations from Singh, his family and associates, and the mayor named Singh to his inaugural committee and other advisory posts. But the city moved to evict Singh after a 2014 audit showed he owed $1.4 million in back rent and late fees on the restaurant.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on Friday that Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s probe of possible favors for de Blasio donors now includes scrutiny of whether the mayor’s office tried to influence the Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ oversight of the lease.
“We’re absolutely confident we’ve acted appropriately in this matter, but out of an interest in protecting the integrity of the investigation we are prohibited from commenting further,” de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips said.
Singh’s lawyer, Anthony La Pinta, did not return a call for comment. A spokesman for Bharara also declined to comment.
Water’s Edge, a popular Long Island City waterfront venue for weddings and political events, hosted de Blasio fundraisers in 2011 and 2013. Singh took over the property in 2009, and the city audit found that revenue dropped from $5.5 million to $2.7 million within three years.
In eviction litigation in State Supreme Court in Queens, Newsday reported last year, the city claimed rent payments had been improperly calculated, while lawyers for Singh argued that revenue had suffered because of Sandy and the city’s destruction of a picturesque pier.
Singh also argued that the city’s calculations were incorrect and that he was making a good-faith effort to pay back rent. But negotiations over alleged arrears broke down in early 2015, the newspaper reported.
The far-flung probe of de Blasio has focused on whether various donors to his campaign or a nonprofit he created to push his agenda received political favors from City Hall.
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services has figured in at least one other prong of the investigation.
The agency approved the lifting of deed restrictions on Rivington House, allowing the nonprofit health care facility to be turned into a for-profit condominium development.
De Blasio has said it shouldn’t have happened, but has insisted it was a mistake, not a favor for those who profited.