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Mayor Says He'll Return Donations From Pal Who's Under Investigation

Yitzchok "Isaac" Leshinsky (inset) has been a longtime friend of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Leshinsky and the nonprofit he created are currently being investigated by the state Attorney General's Office and the city Department of Investigation.
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Linkedin/Isaac Leshinsky

CIVIC CENTER — Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he would return campaign donations he received from a longtime friend who is now under investigation for allegedly misusing money from city contracts.

The mayor's decision to return the money came after DNAinfo New York exclusively reported that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the city Department of Investigation have opened probes into Yitzchok Leshinsky and his nonprofit Housing Bridge, which has secured more than $260 million in contracts to house the homeless since it started in 2006.

The two investigations are focused on loans and other compensation Housing Bridge paid to Leshinsky and the for-profit firms he operated that were in addition to his annual salary.

Leshinsky, who also goes by Isaac, has been a longtime friend of the de Blasios and served on the mayor's inaugural committee when he first took office. Leshinsky and his wife have also contributed $19,475 to de Blasio's political campaigns since 2007.

Leshinsky himself gave $2,500 to de Blasio's mayoral run — donations that broke the city's campaign finance rules. Since Housing Bridge did business with the city, Leshinsky could only donate a maximum of $500 to his campaign, according to the rules. 

De Blasio said at a press conference on Monday that he would return the donations from Leshinsky.

He also said the city was trying to recoup misspent money from the nonprofit.

"From what I've heard so far, that firm has been addressed very vigorously," de Blasio said. "The CEO has been removed, and we are working now to take steps to get resources back from that company."

Leshinsky resigned from Housing Bridge in February 2015.

Records show that the city's Department of Homeless Services continued to do business with Housing Bridge even after learning of the nonprofit's financial irregularities. 

A Homeless Services spokeswoman previously told DNAinfo that her agency and the Mayor's Office of Contract Services said they've worked with Housing Bridge the past two years to ensure that the organization's spending is more transparent.

State Sen. Ruben Diaz once singled out the close relationship between de Blasio and Leshinsky in a letter entitled "The Problems with New York City and the Department of Homeless Services" that he posted on his office's website in 2014.

In his letter, Diaz complained about the secrecy and disparity in which Homeless Services pays its shelter providers. He said that the city was paying more money to the Brooklyn-based Housing Bridge to run a Bronx shelter than a local nonprofit that provided the exact same services in the exact same building.

Diaz told DNAinfo on Monday that he was saddened to hear of the investigations into Housing Bridge. 

"I’m sorry that this happened. It’s a mess," he said. "And I’m sorry for the homeless. They’re always the ones that are going to pay the price."