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Mt. Manresa Developers Paid $65K to Former Boro President Molinaro's Firm

By Nicholas Rizzi | December 18, 2015 7:58am
 The lobbying firm where former Borough President James Molinaro works was paid $65,000 by the developers of the controversial Mount Manresa project to lobby the city. Molinaro said he doesn't directly work lobbying for the developers.
The lobbying firm where former Borough President James Molinaro works was paid $65,000 by the developers of the controversial Mount Manresa project to lobby the city. Molinaro said he doesn't directly work lobbying for the developers.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

STATEN ISLAND — The lobbying firm where former Borough President James Molinaro works was paid $65,000 over the past two years to lobby the city on behalf of the controversial Mount Manresa project, records show.

The Savo Brothers — under the name Mount Builders LLC — hired Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin LLC, of which Molinaro is a senior managing director, in 2014 to lobby the Department of Buildings, according to the Office of the City Clerk.

Molinaro, who was borough president when the 103-year-old Jesuit retreat house was sold for $15 million to be turned into townhouses despite huge protest, said he doesn't directly lobby for the Savo Brothers and didn't think there was anything wrong with his group working for them.

"I was the borough president. It was a piece of land for sale. It was legit. What should I be ashamed of?" Molinaro said.

"People are mad at me for a lot reasons. You can't be loved from everyone, you can't be hated from everywhere."

Lawyers for the group mentioned a "former borough president of Staten Island" in court documents filed this week to block current Borough President James Oddo's attempt to label the streets in the development with names inspired by "greed."

"The former borough president I spoke to confirmed that in all of his years of experience, he has never heard of an applicant not receiving a street name that he proposed and a borough president substituting his own suggestion as the final street name," lawyer Richard Leland wrote in his filing.

The Savo Brothers did not respond to a request for comment.

Molinaro confirmed he was asked by the group about the borough president's power to name streets, but said he was just giving them background information about his experience.

"They asked me if, when I was borough president, did I ever change a street name. I said ‘yes,’ I would not accept a name that was already existing," Molinaro said.

"That was the only thing. It was not a matter of interference, it was referencing."

Molinaro said that while he told developers to pick new names if an existing street already had the same one, he never picked them himself.

"His involvement with the firm, and being specifically named in these court documents, prompts the questions as to whether Molinaro honored the requirements of the city's ethics laws," said Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union. 

Conflicts of Interest Board rules require elected officials not to give up confidential information and not to communicate with the executive branch of government for one year after leaving office. 

Officials are also not allowed to directly work on any matter that was dealt with while they were in office — but that does not stop their firms from being involved.

Molinaro is not mentioned by name as a principal or additional lobbyist in city records for Mount Builders LLC.

He served as borough president from 2002 until 2013, during the time the controversial plans to redevelop Mount Manresa were approved.

While other elected officials spoke out against the project at the time, Molinaro said that the deal was completely legitimate and nothing improper was done, to his knowledge.

He left office in December 2013 and a month later took a job at the high-powered Pitta Bishop Del Giorno and Giblin LLC, which has been one of the city's top 10 lobby firms for the past several years.

Mount Builders hired the group in July 2014 to lobby the Department of Buildings for the project and paid it $25,000 for its work, according to city records.

So far this year, the developers paid Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin LLC $40,000 to continue lobbying the DOB.

Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin LLC, which formed in 2008, came under scrutiny by good government groups earlier this year for its ties to helping City Council members get elected and their high success rate in getting bills passed, the New York Post reported.

During the time Mount Builders was represented by the firm, construction crews for the project were hit with $67,000 in fines after they filed reports claiming there was no asbestos in demolished buildings, despite city inspectors later finding traces of the potentially deadly material.

Asbestos inspectors for the property Gaspare Santoro, 75, and his son Paul Santoro, 36, were arrested and hit with a 36-count indictment this year for lying about the material's presence.