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City Hall Official Got OK to Work Part Time for De Blasio Pal Under Probe

By  James Fanelli and Katie Honan | May 6, 2016 7:44am 

 Ellen Howard-Cooper (left) received a waiver to work as a part-time consultant for Isaac Leshinsky's job-training firm Bridge Career Centers LLC while keeping her day job as the deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Housing Recovery. Leshinsky (right) is under investigation for compensation and loans he received while running Housing Bridge, a nonprofit with more than $260 million in city contracts.
Ellen Howard-Cooper (left) received a waiver to work as a part-time consultant for Isaac Leshinsky's job-training firm Bridge Career Centers LLC while keeping her day job as the deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Housing Recovery. Leshinsky (right) is under investigation for compensation and loans he received while running Housing Bridge, a nonprofit with more than $260 million in city contracts.
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Linkedin/Isaac Leshinsky and Ellen Howard-Cooper

CIVIC CENTER — A high-ranking City Hall official was allowed to moonlight for a job-training firm run by a longtime friend and donor to Mayor Bill de Blasio — even though another wing of the mayor’s office was grilling the man over the misuse of city contract money, records show.

Ellen Howard-Cooper, the deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations, got the OK from City Hall and the city’s Conflict of Interest Board in April 2015 to work as a part-time consultant for Bridge Career Centers LLC while keeping her daytime gig.

Isaac Leshinsky, who owns and operates the for-profit Bridge Career Centers, also founded and ran Housing Bridge, a nonprofit that amassed more than $260 million in contracts with the city’s Department of Homeless Services.

DNAinfo New York reported in March that the state Attorney General’s Office and the city Department of Investigation opened probes into Leshinsky in January over loans and compensation that he received from Housing Bridge.

Leshinsky, who served on de Blasio's inaugural committee, resigned as CEO of Housing Bridge in February 2015.

But between 2010 and his resignation, his salary as CEO rose from $300,000 to $375,000, tax filings show. During that time, Housing Bridge also gave more than $5 million in loans and consulting fees to Leshinsky, a real estate firm he owned, Bridge Career Centers, and another job-training company he and his wife ran, the tax filings show.

DNAinfo previously reported that since 2014, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services and the Homeless Services have been trying to clean up the financial irregularities and conflict of interests at Housing Bridge that Leshinsky caused.

However, a month after Leshinsky quit Housing Bridge, Howard-Cooper asked for a waiver from the city Conflicts of Interest Board to work for the Midwood-based Bridge Career Centers, helping it design and develop high-demand training programs and enhance its job placement services. She had also gotten approval from her boss, Amy Peterson, the director of the Office of Housing Recovery.

Howard-Cooper said in a March 13, 2015, letter to COIB that she met Leshinsky when she worked at the city Department of Homeless Services, the agency that contracts with Housing Bridge to provide shelters. She also told COIB that at Homeless Services she gained experience and expertise in workforce development.

And she said that Bridge Career Centers received funding in the form of training vouchers from the city’s Human Resources Administration and the city’s Small Business Services, but had no business dealings with Housing Recovery.

In an April 14, 2015, letter, COIB granted the waiver, but said she could not let her work for Bridge Career Centers interfere with her city gig. COIB also told her that she could not promote the company’s services to anyone in her office, nor use any confidential information concerning the city to help Bridge Career Centers.

City records show that Leshinsky and his wife, Michelle, have donated $19,475 to de Blasio campaigns since 2007. Leshinsky also bundled an additional $2,500 in contributions as an intermediary to de Blasio’s mayoral run.

A spokesman for Housing Bridge also said in a 2014 New York World story that Leshinsky and de Blasio "had been friends for a long period of time."

The mayor’s office did not respond to questions about Howard-Cooper’s part-time work.

Howard-Cooper, who records show took home $167,000 as a city worker in 2015, could not be reached for comment.

Leshinsky did not respond to requests for comment.