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De Blasio Denies Wrongdoing as Federal Fundraising Probes Widen

By  Jeff Mays and Murray Weiss | April 22, 2016 2:30pm 

 Mayor Bill de Blasio distanced himself Sunday from two businessmen embroiled in a federal corruption probe of the NYPD that has expanded to his campaign fundraising practices.
Mayor Bill de Blasio distanced himself Sunday from two businessmen embroiled in a federal corruption probe of the NYPD that has expanded to his campaign fundraising practices.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to deny any wrongdoing Friday as a federal probe of his campaign fundraising activities widened.

"Everything we've done from the beginning has been done with integrity. We have complied with both the letter and the spirit of the law in everything we've done," de Blasio said on WNYC's "Brian Lehrer Show."

Federal authorities are now examining whether donations from a group seeking to ban horse carriages, New Yorkers for Clean, Livable & Safe Streets, were given to influence that effort. De Blasio promised to ban horse carriages during his first day as mayor but has been unable to accomplish that goal.

Michael McKeon, a NYCLASS spokesman, at first denied in a statement Thursday that the group had been contacted by any federal or state authority but later vowed to "answer any and all questions, and fully cooperate."

Authorities are also examining whether fundraising efforts for Democratic state senate candidates violated campaign contribution limit laws by being routed to other committees, which were allowed to rake in huge donations compared to caps on single donors directly to a candidate's campaign.

The mayor led an unsuccessful effort to try to help Democrats regain control of the Senate.

De Blasio's former campaign finance director Ross Offinger was also recently subpoenaed, demonstrating that the investigators are shifting gears to expedite their probe and zero-in on their targets, according to sources.

Authorities were already investigating two businessmen, Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz, as well as cash, gifts and international trips that they may have provided to high-ranking NYPD officers. Several NYPD officers so far have been stripped of their guns and badges or placed on modified duty as a result.

The probe is also examining Reichberg and Rechnitz donations to the mayor's campaign and to a non-profit, the Campaign for One New York, that de Blasio used to push his political goals such as universal pre-K and an affordable housing overhaul.

The organization — which the mayor suddenly disbanded last month when it was criticized for being loaded with lobbyists — was not subject to city campaign finance disclosure and donation limit rules and accepted millions of dollars from entities and groups with business before the city.

Good government group Common Cause New York called for an investigation, saying the mayor's use of the fund "spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process."

The mayor has repeatedly said that no favors were given for donations to the Campaign for One New York.

"No one should fall into a narrow place of saying someone took a donation therefore something mechanically happened," de Blasio said. "The question is do you hold yourself to a high standard of integrity, do you follow the rules and do you do the things you say you're going to do in my platform?"

The mayor also defended any fundraising activities around his bid to bring Democratic control of the Senate.

"I believe everything we did was legal and appropriate and careful. We've said from the beginning, if there's any kind of investigation going on we'll happily participate. We'll support it because we want to get everything out. We want every fact to be uncovered. I welcome this being done and being done properly," de Blasio said.

After saying that he didn't need a lawyer and that he would no longer discuss the federal fundraising probe, de Blasio last week retained white collar criminal attorney Barry Berke of the firm Kramer Levin to represent his 2013 campaign.

De Blasio has also consistently made a moral and ethical distinction around the issues money from the Campaign for One New York was used to support, pre-K and affordable housing, to argue that there was no quid pro quo.

"I'm very focused as I have been from the beginning on an agenda for change," he said.

"What I've done is  consistently focus, whether its pre-K, whether its after-school or affordable housing, my focus is to fulfill the platform. And if you look at the things that are in my platform, that's what we've followed through on."