GRAMERCY — The city’s Department of Investigations has confirmed allegations that a wealthy parent at Gramercy’s Friends Seminary school coordinated false testimony to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in support of the school’s plans for renovations, according to documents obtained by DNAinfo New York via a Freedom of Information Law request.
Luigi Caiola, the scion of a real-estate family and a parent of children at the pricey Quaker day school on East 16th Street, asked eight people to send letters to LPC pretending to be neighbors who supported the school’s $67 million plans to expand its campus, according to an internal summary of the DOI’s probe.
The agency on April 28 referred its findings to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the memo said — a move that indicates the possibility of a criminal investigation.
The department’s findings back up allegations, originally reported by DNAinfo, that Caiola asked his employees to send the fraudulent emails in an effort to get LPC to approve the plans to expand the school’s campus, which sits inside the Stuyvesant Square Historic District.
LPC approved the plans at a May 19, 2015, hearing, a month after it asked the school to modify parts of the project to better fit the historic character of the neighborhood, according to transcripts from those hearings.
According to the investigation, four of the eight letter writers appear to work or have worked for Caiola’s firm B&L Management, while two of them — including one of the B&L employees — appear to work now or in the past for Stuart Mordfin, an accountant tied to Caiola’s Broadway production company Caiola Productions.
LinkedIn profiles matching the employees indicate that the letter writers included senior staff at B&L, including its chief financial officer and its leasing director.
DOI was unable to establish a connection between Caiola and three of the letter writers, but maintained that they wrote the letters at Caiola's request.
In addition, despite claiming to live on the same block of East 16th Street as the school between Third Avenue and Rutherford Place, DOI could find no record of anyone with the names of the letter writers living on that block.
According to the findings, two of the people appear to be residents of Long Island, one appears to live on Staten Island, one appears to live in Brooklyn, one appears to live somewhere else in Manhattan, and one appears to live in New Jersey.
Caiola did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A spokesman for Friends Seminary said the school had nothing to do with the letters, and that they notified the city as soon as they became aware of them, in January.
"We respect the integrity of the process, and the school wants to make clear that it did not and would never ask anyone to misrepresent themselves in connection with this project or otherwise," said John Galayda, a spokesman for the school.
"The school was unaware of any inaccuracies in the letters when they were submitted to the LPC and, furthermore, notified the city immediately as soon as this issue was brought to our attention."
But following the publication of DNAinfo's investigation in March, the school stood by Caiola, calling him a "beloved and respected member of our school's community" in a letter to parents.
There is no indication that the letters influenced the commission’s decision to approve the plans, and a set of 19 criteria the agency cited in its decision do not include community testimony as a factor.
But according to neighbors and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who spoke with DNAinfo about the emails in March, the existence of fraudulent testimony should be rooted out, regardless.
“Whether or not the letters factored one way or another into the commission’s decision, it is a fraud,” Mendez said at the time. “Certain kinds of misinformation has a criminal impact and hopefully DOI can decide this."
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The private school, which serves nearly 800 students, is planning to add two stories to a trio of three-story townhouses and to a four-story building. A greenhouse and a play structure are also planned for the roof of one of the buildings.
Construction on the four-story building began in April.