Monday, March 28, 2016

Mayor's Pal Yitzchok Leshinsky and Housing Bridge Are Under Investigation

reposted from NYC Public Voice March 28, 2016:

MONDAY, MARCH 28, 2016

Mayor's Pal Yitzchok Leshinsky and Housing Bridge Are Under Investigation

Mayor DeBlasio and Yitzchok "Isaac" Leshinsky (inset)
Mayor's Pal Investigated for Alleged Misuse of Money From City Contracts
By James Fanelli | March 28, 2016 7:42am
MIDWOOD — A longtime friend and campaign donor of Mayor Bill de Blasio who ran a nonprofit that amassed more than $260 million in city contracts to house the homeless is under investigation over loans and compensation given to him and companies he ran, DNAinfo New York has learned.
Since January, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Office and the city Department of Investigation have been looking into Yitzchok Leshinsky and Housing Bridge, the nonprofit he founded in 2006, according to sources.
Leshinsky, 43, who also goes by Isaac, was the CEO of Housing Bridge from its start until February 2015, when he resigned after the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services grilled the nonprofit over financial irregularities.
From 2010 to his resignation, Leshinsky’s annual salary from Housing Bridge — which is also known as Housing Partners of New York — rose from $300,000 to $375,000, tax filings and the nonprofit's board meeting minutes show.
During that time, Housing Bridge also gave more than $5 million in loans and consulting fees to Leshinsky, his real estate firm and two job-training companies he and his wife ran, the tax filings show.
The state AG’s probe focuses on the conflict of interest in the nonprofit providing loans and advance payments to the job-training businesses and Leshinsky, according to sources.
State law requires a nonprofit to fully disclose any conflicts of interest when it conducts business with an insider. Before agreeing to the transaction, a nonprofit board must consider alternatives and document why it chose the insider.
Leshinsky's job-training businesses, Bridge Community Center LLC and Bridge to Employment LLC, received nearly $1.5 million in compensation even before they provided any services, according to tax filings. Some of the loans to Bridge to Employment were even used to launch the company. Bridge to Employment's address is also adjacent to Housing Bridge's main office in Midwood.
Meanwhile, Leshinsky's real estate firm, Parkland Estates, collected at least $525,000 in consulting fees from Housing Bridge, the tax filings show. The nonprofit also loaned Parkland $464,329.
Leshinsky himself received nearly $840,000 in loans from Housing Bridge, according to the filings.
An audit commissioned by Housing Bridge's board after Leshinsky's resignation showed that he owed the nonprofit $3 million. Leshinsky has said in legal documents that he has paid back the debt.
Just a decade old, Housing Bridge has secured more than $260 million worth of contracts with the city’s Department of Homeless Services to provide transitional housing and social services to more than 1,000 families in Queens, The Bronx and Brooklyn. More than $60 million in contracts were signed after de Blasio became mayor.
Even after the Mayor's Office of Contract Services learned of the financial irregularities at Housing Bridge, the nonprofit continued to pick up contracts with Homeless Services, including two that began in July.
Minutes from a Sept. 17, 2015, meeting of Housing Bridge's board members show that Lucille McEwen, a deputy commissioner at Homeless Services, had told them at one point that the agency planned on holding off on new contracts with the nonprofit due to its financial problems.
But she later changed her mind after Housing Bridge convinced her of the good work it had done, according to the board minutes. 
The relationship between Leshinsky and de Blasio goes back at least a decade.
City records show that Leshinsky and his wife, Michelle, have donated $19,475 to de Blasio campaigns since 2007. Leshinsky also bundled an additional $2,500 in contributions as an intermediary to de Blasio’s mayoral run.
The New York World story documented how Leshinsky broke campaign finance rules by directly contributing $2,500 to de Blasio's mayoral campaign. People who do business with the city can only give up to $500 to a candidate.
The de Blasio campaign has not refunded the over-contributions, according to campaign finance records.
Before starting Housing Bridge, Leshinsky was a real estate agent who helped homeless families find apartments. He lives in a Midwood home he bought for $975,000 in 2014, property records show.
In his resignation letter to Housing Bridge's board, Leshinsky said his reason for stepping down as the CEO was because his wife was battling cancer and he needed to care for their five young children.
Earlier this month, he filed a petition in Brooklyn Supreme Court demanding that Housing Bridge cover his legal fees connected to the state and city investigations.
Leshinsky also said in the petition that he paid back his $3 million debt by transferring his for-profit company Bridge to Employment to Housing Bridge. Housing Bridge has reorganized the company as a nonprofit called Bridge to Employment of New York Inc.
The minutes from the Housing Bridge's Sept. 17, 2015, board meeting indeed show that members approved an independent valuation firm's $3 million appraisal of Leshinsky's Bridge to Employment.
However, Housing Bridge disputes Leshinsky's claim that he has settled his debt with the nonprofit.
Records also show that Housing Bridge submitted an insurance claim last month for a loss of $3 million that blames Leshinsky and his affiliated companies.
Leshinsky did not respond to a request for comment.
Dept. of Homeless Services spokeswoman Nicole Cueto said her agency and the Mayor's Office of Contracts have worked with Housing Bridge and its former leadership for the past two years to review any conflicts of interest. She said after the review, the city established new protections that make the organization's spending more transparent.
“Every effort will be made to recover any and all taxpayer dollars per the city’s agreement with Housing Partners, while being careful not to interfere with ongoing investigations,” Cueto said. “The city acted swiftly and decisively because such misuse of city funding must not be tolerated.”
Some of Housing Bridge's staff and board members feel the nonprofit remains in a bad situation under its new leadership, according to sources.
After Leshinsky resigned as CEO, Housing Bridge's board replaced him with Judah Septimus, a Brooklyn lawyer and accountant who had previously been hired as counsel for Leshinsky's private firms and later for Housing Bridge to advise them on the state's nonprofit laws.
In his court petition, Leshinsky said Septimus, who also runs a real estate title company, is earning a $375,000 salary as the new CEO while only doing part-time work. 
At Housing Bridge's Sept. 17, 2015, board meeting, its members discussed how the nonprofit had to rely on loans from the city over the summer and into the fall to pay its staff and utilities because City Comptroller Scott Stringer's Office refused to register four of five of its contracts, cutting it off from millions of dollars.
Stringer's office wanted Housing Bridge to clear building and safety violations at its shelters before it would register the contracts. Records show that one of the contracts was registered in September. Two more were finally registered in December.  
Robert Mercurio, a lawyer representing Housing Bridge, said in a statement that the nonprofit has adopted new governance and accounting policies that comply with New York law. Since Leshinsky's departure, the nonprofit also elected four new board members, Mercurio said.
Mercurio also defended the city's decision to continue doing business with Housing Bridge.
"The contracts awarded by the city to [Housing Bridge] in July 2015 were awarded to the reorganized entity only after the city was satisfied that [Housing Bridge] was operating in full compliance with NY law and that Mr. Leshinsky had no association with it," Mercurio said.
Mercurio added that Leshinsky is no longer involved with the reorganized Bridge to Employment of New York.


 Bill de Blasio’s campaign for mayor took in contributions exceeding legal limits from a member of his inaugural committee whose organization holds $168 million in contracts with the city.
As he ran for mayor last year, de Blasio took in $2,500 in contributions from Yitzchok Leshinsky, the head of a not-for-profit called Housing Bridge that runs shelters for the Department of Homeless Services.

Isaac Leshinsky, left. Photo courtesy Queens Chronicle
Under New York City campaign finance rules, executives of organizations that do business with the city are barred from donating more than $400 to a mayoral candidate.
Another stream of donations — all in compliance with campaign finance rules — flowed from Leshinsky’s household to de Blasio, records show. Leshinsky’s wife maxed out on her allowable contributions to the candidate with $4,950, and gave another $4,500 to his transition effort. Yitzchok Leshinsky also directed $2,500 in funds to de Blasio by bundling them as an intermediary.
In all, Leshinsky and his wife brought nearly $15,000 to the de Blasio cause, counting public matching funds from the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Leshinsky was also a financial backer of de Blasio’s 2009 winning bid for public advocate.
“There was no intent to violate any regulations and hopefully the campaign will refund the money,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who spoke on behalf of Leshinsky.
“The reason he donated is because he and Mr. de Blasio had been friends for a long period of time. And Mr. de Blasio looked like he had absolutely no shot at being the mayor at that point,” Sheinkopf added. “Mr. Leshinsky stood by his friend.”
A spokesperson from the de Blasio campaign said that if Yitzchok and Isaac Leshinsky were confirmed to be the same person, the portion of his contribution that was over the limit would be returned, as would the $175 the campaign obtained in public matching funds following the donation.
The spokesperson added that all contributions to the campaign had been checked against the official“Doing Business Database” listing high-ranking individuals at private firms who seek contracts with or lobby the city, and that when over-the-limit contributions were found the campaign promptly returned them.
The New York City Campaign Finance Board conducts its own review of donors in coordination with candidates to weed out those with business before the city. It, too, relies on the Doing Business Database for the review.
That review did not flag the contributions from Leshinsky, who does business with the city under the first name Isaac but made his contributions as Yitzchok.
A news release from the de Blasio transition announcing members of the inaugural committee listed him as Yitzchok “Isaac” Leshinsky.
“The CFB’s review process matches contributions to candidates against the City’s Doing Business Database, and in this instance that process did not identify a match,” Campaign Finance Board spokesperson Matthew Sollars said. “Following each citywide election, the CFB conducts a thorough review of its operations and makes changes as needed.”
Sollars said the pay-to-play restrictions on donations from city contractors are designed to reduce the possibility or perception that individuals who have a business relationship with the city can buy influence by making large campaign contributions.
Last month, de Blasio refunded $40,125 to donors, nearly half to individuals whose contributions had exceeded the limit set for contractors, bidders or lobbyists with business before the city.
Meanwhile, Leshinsky’s business with the city continues to grow. He founded and continues to advise a for-profit firm called Bridge to Employment, which occupies an office next door to Housing Bridge headquarters on Coney Island Ave.
This week, in a process initiated by the Bloomberg administration, the Department of Homeless Services announced that it was negotiating a $400,000 contract with Bridge to Employment to provide job-placement services for homeless shelter residents in the Bronx. Bridge to Employment’s pitch touted Leshinsky as a “pioneer and innovator” in the field of homeless services.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Brooklyn DA Says The Cop Who Shot Akai Gurley Should Not Go To Jail

I am sure that the controversy surrounding the shooting of Akai Gurley by ex-cop Peter Liang will not go away for a long time, if ever.

Betsy Combier
Editor, Courtbeat
Akai Gurley’s aunt speaking in front of Brooklyn criminal
court in 2015.

Brooklyn DA: Peter Liang, Ex Cop, Should Serve No Jail Time for Killing Akai Gurley

The Brooklyn District Attorney has advised Liang's sentencing judge that jailing him "is not necessary to protect the public."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Senator John Sampson is Suspended From the Practice of Law, Effective Immediately Says The First Department Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court

John Sampson
Another corrupt politician is caught in New York State. When will all of them be gone? There are still more out there, including Andrew Cuomo.

Betsy Combier
Editor, Courtbeat

Matter of Sampson
2016 NY Slip Op 01757
Decided on March 10, 2016
Appellate Division, First Department
Per Curiam
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

Decided on March 10, 2016 SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION First Judicial Department 
Angela M. Mazzarelli, Justice Presiding,
Rolando T. Acosta
Dianne T. Renwick
Karla Moskowitz
Rosalyn H. Richter,Justices.


[*1]In the Matter of John L. Sampson (admitted as John Llwelyn Sampson), an attorney and counselor-at-law: Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department, Petitioner, John L. Sampson, Respondent.

Disciplinary proceedings instituted by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department. Respondent, John L. Sampson, was admitted to the Bar of the State of New York at a Term of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the Second Judicial Department on April 29, 1992.

Jorge Dopico, Chief Counsel, Departmental
Disciplinary Committee, New York
(Raymond Vallejo, of counsel), for petitioner.
Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, P.C.
(Barry Kamins, of counsel), for respondent.

Per Curiam
Respondent John L. Sampson was admitted to the practice of law in the State of New York by the Second Judicial Department on April 29, 1992, under the name John Llwelyn Sampson. At all times relevant to this proceeding, respondent maintained an office for the practice of law within the First Judicial Department.
On July 24, 2015, respondent was convicted, after a jury trial, in the United States District [*2]Court for the Eastern District of New York, of one count of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 USC §§ 1503(a) and 1503(b)(3), and two counts of making false statements in violation of 18 USC § 1001(a)(2), both felonies. Respondent has not yet been sentenced.
Respondent, who was a member of the New York State Senate, attempted to prevent an associate, who had been charged by the United States Attorney's Office (USAO) with bank fraud and wire fraud in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme, from cooperating with law enforcement authorities by, among other things attempting to obtain confidential, nonpublic information regarding the mortgage fraud case through a person who, at the time, was an administrative employee with the USAO; and directing the associate to withhold documentation from the government [FN1]. In addition, respondent falsely stated to FBI agents that he had not previously seen a check register page reflecting a prior payment of funds from the associate to respondent, which, in fact, the associate had shown him; and had not directed a Senate staffer to contact the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance for the purpose of having the sales tax liability of a liquor store, in which respondent had an ownership interest, reduced, which he did.
The Departmental Disciplinary Committee (Committee) seeks an order determining that the crimes of which respondent has been convicted are "serious crimes" as defined by Judiciary Law § 90(4)(d); suspending respondent from the practice of law pursuant to Judiciary Law § 90(4)(f); and directing respondent to show cause before a Hearing Panel or a referee, which shall thereupon hold a hearing and issue a report and recommendation to this Court, why a final order of censure, suspension or disbarment should not be made within 90 days following the imposition of sentence, or respondent's release from incarceration, if applicable, pursuant to Judiciary Law § 90(4)(g).
In response, respondent's counsel has submitted an affirmation in which he, inter alia, acknowledges that the offenses of which respondent was convicted are "serious crimes."
However, he opposes the Committee's request for an interim suspension and requests that a sanction hearing be postponed until after respondent is sentenced.
The crimes which respondent was convicted of are "serious crimes" within the meaning of Judiciary Law § 90(4)(d) and The Rules of the Appellate Division, First Department (22 NYCRR) 603.12(b). Further, this Court has held that the federal crimes of obstruction of justice and making a false statement constitute "serious crimes" (see e.g. Matter of Williams, 217 AD2d 9 [1st Dept 1995]; Matter of Konigsberg, 183 AD2d 335 [1st Dept 1992]; Matter of Goldblatt, 132 AD2d 329 [1st Dept 1987][the respondent was convicted of several federal offenses after trial, including obstruction of justice, which was deemed a "serious crime"]; see also Matter of Izquierdo, 56 AD3d 1117 [3d Dept 2008][the respondent, who was convicted of making false statements to FBI, pled guilty to a "serious crime"]).
This Court has consistently held that during the pendency of a "serious crime" proceeding, it is appropriate to suspend an attorney, pursuant to Judiciary Law § 90(4)(f), who has been convicted of a felony and is serving a term of probation or imprisonment (see e.g. Matter of Lam, 104 AD3d 80 [1st Dept 2013]; Matter of Schneider, 97 AD3d 152 [1st Dept 2012]); Matter of Shapiro, 81 AD3d 25 [1st Dept 2011]). Here, even though respondent has not yet been sentenced, he is still subject to immediate suspension (see e.g. Matter of Kramer, 69 AD3d 139, 141 [1st Dept 2009] [interim suspension imposed based on "serious crime" conviction prior to sentencing]; Matter of Fasciana, 36 AD3d 9 [1st Dept 2006] [same];Matter [*3]of Moid, 230 AD2d 396 [1st Dept 1997] [same]; Matter of Woodward, 218 AD2d 65 [1st Dept 1996] [same]).
Respondent argues that good cause exists to deny the Committee's request for an interim suspension. Respondent, however, has not presented any compelling reason why this Court should not impose an interim suspension. Furthermore, with regard to respondent's request to postpone a sanction hearing until after he is sentenced,under Judiciary Law § 90(4)(g), a sanction hearing cannot be initiated until a final judgment of conviction is entered, which will occur once respondent has been sentenced (Matter of Kramer, 69 AD3d at 141). Lastly, as a matter of course, this Court refers serious crime matters to a Hearing Panel of the Committee to hear and report.
Accordingly, the Committee's petition should be granted. We deem the offenses of which respondent has been convicted a "serious crime" pursuant to Judiciary Law § 90(4)(d) and 22 NYCRR 603.12(b). Additionally, respondent should be suspended from the practice of law, effective immediately, and until such time as the disciplinary proceedings against respondent are concluded, and until further order of this Court. Finally, respondent is directed to, within 90 days of his sentencing or release from incarceration, whichever is applicable, show cause before a Hearing Panel designated by the Committee, pursuant to Judiciary Law § 90(4)(g), why a final order of censure, suspension or disbarment should not be made.
All concur.
Order filed [March 10, 2016].
Mazzarelli, J.P., Acosta, Renwick, Moskowitz, and Richter, JJ.
Respondent suspended from the practice of law in the State of New York, effective the date hereof, until such time as disciplinary matters pending before the Committee have been concluded and until further order of this Court. Opinion Per Curiam. All concur.

Footnote 1:The indictment alleged that the associate provided respondent with $188,500 so that respondent could repay funds he had embezzled from foreclosure sales for which he served as a court appointed referee. Notably, counts one and two of the indictment, which charged respondent with embezzlement, were dismissed as time-barred by the trial court. 

State Senator John L. Sampson, center, leaving Federal District Court in Brooklyn on
Friday. Mr. Sampson, a Democrat, was convicted of trying to thwart a federal inquiry.
 CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times
John Sampson, New York State Senator, Is Guilty on Some Federal Charges
July 24, 2015

 State Senator John L. Sampson was convicted on Friday of trying to thwart a federal investigation, becoming the latest New York lawmaker to face a prison sentence.
He was found guilty of three of nine charges, the most serious of which, obstructing justice, carries a maximum term of 10 years. He was acquitted of charges carrying sentences of up to 20 years.
Mr. Sampson, who previously served as the Democratic leader in the Senate, was also found guilty on two charges of making false statements. The jury in Federal District Court in Brooklyn delivered its verdict after six days of deliberations.
As a result of his felony conviction, Mr. Sampson immediately lost his seat in the Legislature. He is the second state senator to be found guilty this week, after Thomas W. Libous, a Republican, was convicted on Wednesday and forfeited his seat.
During the three-week trial, federal prosecutors argued that Mr. Sampson, 50, of Brooklyn, had embezzled state funds when he was appointed to oversee the sales of properties in foreclosure and then covered up the embezzlement. The embezzlement charges had been thrown out by Judge Dora L. Irizarry, who said the statute of limitations had passed. Prosecutors said on Friday that they would appeal the decision once it was officially issued.
The defense argued that the government had entrapped Mr. Sampson, and it emphasized that one of his former friends, Edul Ahmad, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors after Mr. Ahmad was charged with mortgage fraud.
Mr. Ahmad testified that Mr. Sampson threatened to silenceanyone who was helping investigators. Prosecutors played video and audio recordings of a visibly distraught Mr. Sampson taking a check register that Mr. Ahmad indicated could be proof of the embezzlement and putting it in his jacket pocket.
Kim O’Meally, the forewoman of the jury, said the defense’s argument that Mr. Sampson was entrapped had been persuasive. “Ahmad was getting him to say things when he didn’t want to,” she said. “We felt that was entrapment,” and added that the jury did not find Mr. Ahmad credible.
Sam Noel, another friend of Mr. Sampson, who for 22 years was a paralegal at the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, was also ensnared in the investigation. Mr. Sampson asked Mr. Noel to look up information about Mr. Ahmad’s case and any case being pursued against Mr. Sampson. Mr. Noel testified that he used confidential law enforcement databases to do so. Mr. Sampson’s lawyers argued that the senator had never directly asked Mr. Noel to break the law.
Though Mr. Noel did not find much information, he was charged with a federal crime, lost his job and described feeling betrayed by Mr. Sampson, “a man I view as my brother.”
The forewoman, Ms. O’Meally, said of Mr. Noel’s account, “Although it was an emotional testimony, we really had to listen to all the evidence and take the emotion out of it.”
Prosecutors said the embezzlement occurred when Mr. Sampson, a lawyer, was a court-appointed referee for foreclosed properties in Brooklyn. Rather than returning the surplus money from the real estate sales to the State Supreme Court, as he was supposed to do, Mr. Sampson kept about $440,000, prosecutors said. Mr. Sampson set the funds aside for his own use, including to help his unsuccessful bid in 2005 for Brooklyn district attorney.
In a proceeding last year, Mr. Sampson’s lawyers did not contest that the embezzlement occurred but said it had taken place so long ago that the statute of limitations had expired.
The six counts the jury acquitted Mr. Sampson of included two counts of witness tampering and one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice, evidence tampering, concealing records and making a false statement.
Federal guidelines suggest a prison sentence of “north of 10 years,” said Kelly T. Currie, the acting United States attorney for the Eastern District.
Nathaniel H. Akerman, one of Mr. Sampson’s lawyers, said, “We are going to pursue all of our legal rights in this case until Mr. Sampson is finally vindicated.” Mr. Akerman added that the jury verdict showed that at no point “did he ever use his office to benefit himself.”
After the verdict, prosecutors asked that Mr. Sampson, who has been free on bail, be jailed immediately.
“He is unable to obey rules, regulations and laws,” Alexander Solomon, a federal prosecutor, said, adding that throughout the trial, Mr. Sampson had parked in no-parking spaces outside the courthouse using his Senate placard, “indicating he’s on official business.”
Mr. Akerman responded that Mr. Sampson had been on time to all of his court appearances and that his family had watched the entire trial, indicating he was not a flight risk. Judge Irizarry denied the prosecution’s request.
Correction: July 24, 2015 
An earlier version of this article, using information from officials, misstated the maximum sentence for the obstruction-of-justice charge State Senator John L. Sampson was convicted of. It is 10 years, not 20.
Correction: July 24, 2015 

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the number of charges of which Mr. Sampson was convicted. He was convicted of three charges, not six.