‘What is the mayor hiding,’ asks NYC Council’s top investigator about NYCHA settlement

NEW YORK – As City Hall hammers out a reported billion-dollar settlement with the federal government to fix public housing in New York City, the deal is raising suspicions that the mayor is attempting to hide evidence of coordinated wrongdoing with the New York City Housing Authority.

In a letter addressed to the office of first Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, City Councilman Ritchie Torres questions Mayor Bill de Blasio’s motives for signing a consent decree that would give the federal government control of NYCHA — along with billions of city dollars for repair costs.

“A signed consent decree, no matter how one presents it publicly, represents a tacit admission of liability,” Torres wrote in the letter, dated May 23.

The proposed consent decree comes in the wake of a two-year federal investigation into NYCHA’s mishandling of mandatory lead-paint inspections in 2016. Torres worries de Blasio is making a unilateral deal to suppress incriminating details that might otherwise emerge in court proceedings.

When asked to clarify his suspicions in a sit-down interview with PIX11, Torres offered, “If you think about it differently, it means the mayor is signing the consent decree because he feels he has no choice, because there’s something to hide. The question is, what is he hiding?”

Torres is the Council’s committee chair of oversight and investigations and a prominent voice on public-housing concerns.

In December 2017, he publicly grilled then NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye, which resulted in false testimony about lead-paint certification compliance. Olatoye resigned in April.

Now, Torres wants to know if the mayor’s office was somehow involved in an attempt to mislead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding lead-paint inspections.

“Did City Hall have knowledge of the false certification to the federal government?” Torres asks. “I have trouble imagining that the NYCHA chair would make a decision to submit a false certification to HUD without informing or running it by the deputy mayor.”

When reached for details about the impending consent decree, the mayor’s office did not comment.

However, de Blasio has long maintained that neither his office nor former NYCHA chair Olatoye knowingly misled HUD when filing false lead-paint certifications.

“We do not believe there’s any evidence that anyone intentionally made any misstatements to HUD,” a spokeswoman for the mayor said in November 2017.

“My hope is that people will start asking questions rather than accept what the mayor presents to them. The public has a right to know the full truth,” Torres concluded in our interview.

Sources tell PIX11 that de Blasio is expected to sign the consent decree in a closed-door meeting in the coming days.

Monica Morales contributed to this report.