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De Blasio Probes Could Cost Taxpayers $10M to Cover 2 Years of Legal Fees

By Jeff Mays | November 23, 2016 3:15pm
 The federal and state investigations into whether Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides provided favorable treatment to donors in exchange for political donations could cost taxpayers $10 million over two years, according to city documents.
The federal and state investigations into whether Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides provided favorable treatment to donors in exchange for political donations could cost taxpayers $10 million over two years, according to city documents.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

NEW YORK CITY — It could cost taxpayers $10 million to defend Mayor Bill de Blasio in multiple federal and state probes into his fundraising over the next two years, according to city documents.

The city filed a $10 million contract with the firm Debevoise & Plimpton with the Comptroller's office for "investigations being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the New York City Department of Investigation, and other entities."

► READ MORE: Here's What We Know About the Probe Into Mayor Bill de Blasio's Fundraising

The city dubbed the investigation the "John Doe Investigation" and neither de Blasio's name nor his aides or other city employees who could be affected by the probe are listed in the documents.

The firm will be paid between $575 per hour for the work of associates, $650 per hour for counsel and $850 per hour for partners.

Debevoise & Plimpton partner Matthew Fishbein, who specializes in white collar criminal defense, signed the contract that was awarded without going through the city's competitive bidding process.

The city's corporation counsel determined that a competitive bidding process "may disclose litigation strategy."

According to the documents, the city has budgeted $2 million for fiscal year 2016 and $8 million for fiscal year 2017. Debevoise & Plimpton have been working without payment until the contract is approved.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is investigating whether donors to de Blasio's political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, received anything in return for their donations.

The nonprofit lies outside of city campaign finance rules and was able to accept unlimited amounts of money from firms and individuals who had business before the city.

Top de Blasio aide Emma Wolfe and the mayor's chief fundraiser, Ross Offinger, have both been issued subpoenas. BerlinRosen, the consulting firm credited with de Blasio's victory and owned by one of the mayor's closest advisers, Jonathan Rosen, has also been subpoenaed.

The mayor has denied any wrongdoing.

Asked about the spending last week, de Blasio said it was necessary.

“As you know there's many elements of investigation," he said.

"We’ve been asked to provide information, we’ve been very, very cooperative. And as many times as the investigators want to talk to members of the administration, of course they will have that opportunity, but each time requires preparation and representation."

De Blasio added that city tax money would only be used to defend city employees in work they did for the city government.

"Things that involve the campaign, of course, are not covered by the lawyers that work for the government. Their job is to represent people in terms of the work they did as government employees," said de Blasio.

► READ MORE: De Blasio Hires Lawyers to Handle Federal Investigations

The mayor has hired his own attorney, Barry Berke of Kramer Levin, who also represents his campaign, as his own personal lawyer.

De Blasio said he has not been interviewed by federal authorities.

It's unclear when Bharara will unveil the results of his investigation, which is also said to include the mayor's involvement into the sale of Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn.

De Blasio solicited a $20,000 donation from developer Don Peebles for his political nonprofit as Peebles was bidding for the project. Peebles was successful in his bid, but was eventually removed as developer when negotiations broke down.

►READ MORE: De Blasio Asked Me for $20K And it Was Hard to Say No, Developer Says

Peebles, a possible mayoral candidate, asked for his $20,000 donation back after the Campaign for One New York paid for a letter defending the choice of a new developer, Fortis Property group, represented by powerful lobbyist and de Blasio donor James Capalino.

Peebles' donation was not disclosed to the the media or on the group's 2014 filings with the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The group had registered as a lobbyist in 2014 and was required to submit details about donations and expenditures.

►READ MORE: Affordable Housing Off the Table in LICH Redevelopment, Developer Says

The city has also added $6.5 million in new spending for the Law Department to hire outside attorneys to handle the investigations facing the city, according to budget documents.