Former City Official Claims Mayoral Aide Pushed For False Rivington House Testimony
Ricardo Morales, a central figure in the Rivington House debacle, has filed a lawsuit against the de Blasio administration.
The former deputy commissioner at the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) was fired in February of last year. Morales’ signature appeared on a document authorizing the lifting of deed restrictions at the former Lower East Side nursing home. That agreement set the stage for the luxury condo conversion of the longtime community facility at 45 Rivington St.
In the lawsuit, Morales claims his civil rights were violated. He accuses top administration officials of plotting to deliver “knowingly false” testimony under oath at a City Council hearing to conceal their role in the Rivington House scandal. Morales claims he was fired and escorted from his office “like a common criminal” as retaliation for complaining about interference from City Hall in the Rivington House matter.
Court documents describe a May 11, 2016 meeting that involved Morales, DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camillo, and Jon Paul Lupo (a top mayoral aide). According to Morales, Lupo pressured Camillo to testify at a City Council oversight hearing that the mayor’s office had nothing to do with the lifting of deed restrictions. “Lupo controlled the meeting,” the lawsuit claims. “Consistent with the narrative that was emanating from City Hall, Lupo stated that DCAS was solely responsible for what had happened with Rivington and he made it clear that that was to be the narrative to be delivered at the City Council hearing.” It was later revealed that multiple high ranking mayoral aides were deeply involved in the matter.
Morales said he protested the efforts to lay blame for the deed changes on DCAS. Lupo, said Morales, was “outraged” and told Camillo that she would be the only city official to deliver testimony. In the end, the allegedly false narrative was not presented by Camillo at the hearing.
Moarles’ firing happened on the same day that the mayor underwent a four hour interview by federal prosecutors. At the time, a city spokesperson said DCAS was “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.”
But the lawsuit alleges, “Firing Morales had nothing to do with going in a different direction and everything to do with sending a message to all the city’s dedicated civil servants about what happens if you oppose the personal interests of de Blasio, even if your opposition is guided by legal and ethical obligations.”
A mayoral spokesperson, Freddi Goldstein, responded to the lawsuit, saying, “As we’ve said 5,000 times, the administration acted appropriately.”