City Official Who Signed Off on Rivington House Deed Changes Has Been Fired

45 Rivington St.

45 Rivington St.

The city official who approved the lifting of deed restrictions at Rivington House has been fired.

Ricardo Morales, deputy commissioner at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), was terminated on Friday. In November of 2015, he signed off on the deed changes, which set the stage for the luxury condo conversion of the former nursing home.

As the Daily News noted, Morales’ firing happened just hours after the mayor’s four hour grilling by federal prosecutors. The U.S. attorney is investigating whether the mayor traded political favors for campaign cash. The Rivington House debacle was part of the inquiry, but is not a main focus of the case.

Guy Oksenhendler, an attorney for Morales, told the News,  “I find the timing of my client’s firing extremely suspicious… Around the time (the de Blasio meeting with prosecutors) would have concluded, my client was terminated.” Oksenhendler believes the firing came directly from the mayor: “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was denial that it came from up on high, but my gut feel is that a deputy commissioner isn’t terminated without it coming from up the chain of command. We’ll find out what the facts are.”

Cathy Hanson, a spokesperson for DCAS, denied that Morales’ dismissal was related to the Rivington House ordeal. The agency, she said, is “moving forward with several leadership changes and some restructuring designed to improve our efficiency and performance… These changes have been in the works for some time and have nothing to do with the mayor’s or City Hall’s cooperation with the U.S. Attorney.”

In spite of the denials, people inside the administration are acknowledging what seems obvious: Morales was let go for a very specific reason. According to Politico New York, “two sources familiar with Morales’ exit said he was removed because of the deed restriction change.”

Several top mayoral aides were told at different times about the request to lift deed restrictions at Rivington House, but they failed to intervene. The building’s former owner, the Allure Group, paid $16 million to wipe away the deed restrictions. In February of 2016, Allure sold the property to Slate Property Group and partners China Vanke Co. and Adam America Real Estate for $116 million. The mayor has said he sees no way to win the building back for the community, but local activists continue to fight for the return of the former Rivington House property as a community facility.