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New York City received 17,353 rat sighting calls last year, this map shows them all

Westlake Legal Group rat-map-NY New York City received 17,353 rat sighting calls last year, this map shows them all The Blog rats New York City

Earlier today I wrote about the rat and garbage problem in Los Angeles. But the problem is not limited to LA or to the west coast. Today the NY Times published a report about the serious rat problem in New York City. The map above is based on 311 calls to report rat sightings, more than 17,000 such reports were made last year alone:

Rat sightings reported to the city’s 311 hotline have soared nearly 38 percent, to 17,353 last year from 12,617 in 2014, according to an analysis of city data by OpenTheBooks.com, a nonprofit watchdog group, and The New York Times. In the same period, the number of times that city health inspections found active signs of rats nearly doubled.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, like mayors before him, has declared war on rats, but so far the city is still losing…

City health inspections found 30,874 instances of “active rat signs,” which including sightings and droppings, at buildings and properties last year, or nearly double the 16,315 instances in 2014, according to the analysis. In the first three months of this year, there were 8,003 inspection reports of active rat signs, up from 6,787 in the same period last year.

The Times offers a series of reasons for the rat problem: gentrification, population growth, tourism and of course climate change. Later in the article, you get to a much more likely source of the problem: the city’s trash collection.

A major contributing factor is how the city collects trash: bags are left outside on the curb for hours before pick up the next morning. “It’s just an all-night buffet for the rats,” he said.

On Ninth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, rats chow down on trash bags piled outside restaurants and bars. Steve Belida, the chairman of a local block association, said he used to get the occasional rat complaint. Now he gets a steady stream…

On a recent night, black trash bags piled along a stretch of sidewalk known as “rat alley” seemed to crinkle on their own as rats squirmed inside. High-pitched squeaks filled the air. “It’s not the night before Christmas,” said Mr. Herrera, who lives next door.

Mr. Herrera has found gnawed chicken bones and rat droppings underneath his car hood. He spent $150 to replace chewed-up ignition wires. Walking down the street has become a source of anxiety for his 9-year-old daughter, Isabella Henry.

Last April, Mayor de Blasio declared war on rats and introduced a new plan to fight them using dry ice to suffocate the rats in their burrows. However, his demonstration didn’t go as planned. One rat who was supposed to be suffocated by the dry ice leaped out of a hole and ran around the site as various workers tried to stamp on it with boots and a shovel. The rat escaped. Maybe that should have been a hint.

The interactive rat map is here if you want to explore a particular neighborhood. And here’s a recent Vice story about the rat problem in the city and a group of dog owners who hunt the rats for sport.

The post New York City received 17,353 rat sighting calls last year, this map shows them all appeared first on Hot Air.

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We finally have some solid polling numbers on de Blasio and, um…

Westlake Legal Group de-Blasio-rally We finally have some solid polling numbers on de Blasio and, um… The Blog Polling New York City mayor Bill de Blasio 2020 Democrat primaries

As the Washington Post was reporting last night, the new Q-poll is out and it’s the first solid, national survey to include New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s name since he announced his presidential bid. So how did Hizzoner do? Well… we can start at the top line or go to the crosstabs but there simply isn’t much good to say. To begin with, out of 454 registered Democrats or Democrat-leaning independent likely voters, not a single one picked de Blasio as their choice for the nomination. Nobody.

Sadly for Bill, the questions that drill down further don’t get any better. For the question of what candidate would make people unhappy if they wound up winning the nomination, it was a virtual tie between Sanders and Biden. That makes sense because supporters of each see the other as the greatest threat. But guess who came in a close third. Yep. (Emphasis added)

Quinnipiac asked Democrats if there were any candidates that they hoped wouldn’t win. About 10 percent of those surveyed identified both Biden and Sanders, the two front-runners.

The next most commonly cited candidate? New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It’s a pretty impressive feat that de Blasio’s pulled off here. No one picked him as their preferred nominee, but one out of every 12 respondents said affirmatively that they didn’t want him to win.

They go on from there to point out that Bill’s name recognition may be lagging, but that’s far from his only issue. Roughly half of the respondents said they didn’t know enough about the mayor to have an opinion. But for all the rest who did know of him, 71 percent of the opinions were negative. Click through and take a look at some of the graphs from the results and you’ll see just how much of an outlier Bill de Blasio is. These are the Democrats we’re talking about and some of them appear to like Donald Trump more.

The message might be starting to sink in. During an interview yesterday, de Blasio said even he isn’t sure he should be running. (NY Post)

Dollar Bill is hedging his bets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s been pleading with people to pledge as a little as a buck to support his quixotic bid for the White House, has hired a “lean and mean” presidential campaign team of just five people, because he’s not sure if he’ll be a viable candidate, sources told The Post.

The Mayor has a presidential campaign in motion and thus far he has hired five staffers. Nearly all of them are from his City Hall staff and four of the five are white males. In New York City. I know, right?

The de Blasio for President Campaign Death Watch continues. I was finding it amusing for a while, but now it’s just becoming sad.

The post We finally have some solid polling numbers on de Blasio and, um… appeared first on Hot Air.

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Donald Trump Jr. to run for office?

Westlake Legal Group DJTjr Donald Trump Jr. to run for office? The Blog New York City mayor elections donald trump jr

Could it be true? The President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., is reportedly mulling a run for office. No, he’s not talking about a primary challenge to take on his father for a seat in the Oval Office. The younger Trump is allegedly pondering a run to be the next Mayor of New York City. He wouldn’t be the first wealthy New Yorker to take the office (or at least try) but is the Trump brand still strong enough in the Big Apple to pull this off? (NY Post)

Political families beget dynasties. Take Gov. Mario Cuomo’s kid, Gov. Andrew. Add a pile of Roosevelts, wall-to-wall Kennedys, more Bushes than they have in Cypress. Clintons might gear Chelsea for office. We had multiple Daleys in Chicago, assorted Tafts from Ohio, Jerry Brown and daddy Pat both grabbed California governorships. Plus leave us not overlook those Rockefellers.

Comes now Donald Trump’s son. Drums are beating that Donald Jr. would like to run for mayor. Of where? Where else?

There was a time when President Trump was spoken of as a possible mayoral candidate, particularly back when he was a Democrat. By this point, however, his 2016 campaign and subsequent actions as President have pegged him as a deeply red conservative who likely wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance in the liberal enclave of Gotham. In fact, I’m not entirely sure he’ll be able to go back and live there once he leaves office.

But Trump Jr. isn’t Trump Sr. when it comes to political philosophy. It’s long been known that the Trump children have tended to lean quite a bit more to the liberal side than their father’s current positions. Don junior is perfectly happy to step up and help his dad wherever and however he’s asked, but if he were running the show personally, I think he’d be far closer to a Democrat than a Republican.

Now that I come to think of that specific part of the question, why would we assume that Junior would run for New York City Mayor as a Republican? He might just run as a Democrat or even an independent. That would help differentiate him from his father and stake out his own turf. And he would need to do precisely that. Dad’s approval rating in the Big Apple is currently 26/71.

But, assuming he runs, could the younger Trump really detach himself enough from his father to win? He’s become a central figure in many stories coming out of the White House and he’s now best known for being part of his father’s administration. Short of starting some sort of public family feud with his father, I think too many voters will associate the two of them. And that would probably sink his mayoral bid before it started.

The post Donald Trump Jr. to run for office? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Even the NY Times finds bankrupt taxi drivers shouldn’t be blaming Uber

Westlake Legal Group taxis Even the NY Times finds bankrupt taxi drivers shouldn’t be blaming Uber uber The Blog taxi New York City medallions lyft loans government regulations gig economy Bankruptcy

This is a subject we’ve been tackling here for a while now. With the advent of Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy outfits, a lot of pressure has been put on taxi drivers that don’t deliver a similar quality of service. Part of the resulting economic distress has come from a simple lack of customers, but the problem runs deeper than that. Under the traditional, corrupt system of taxi “medallions,” the municipal government has been able to regulate how many people are able to attempt to earn a living by offering rides. In exchange, they had to pay an increasing amount of money for one of these medallions. The government effectively created an artificial market for a product with zero real-world value because they controlled the scarcity of it.

The situation quickly grew out of control, with the cost of medallions ballooning past a million dollars. This left the drivers (or their employers) in deep financial holes. When the gig economy arrived, the value of the medallions plummeted, resulting in some drivers being so financially ruined that they took their own lives. But whose fault was it really? The New York Times has published a deep dive on this phenomenon showing how the greed of the government destroyed the livelihood of these drivers while profiting handsomely. (The linked article is part two of a series. Read part one of the Times’ report about “reckless loans” and the damage to taxi drivers here.)

Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

Their actions turned one of the best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.

While the Times at least highlights the fact that questionable banking practices played into the challenges the drivers face, the story goes deeper than that. Once it became established that you had to have a medallion to drive and that the medallions were suddenly worth massive amounts of money (for no reason other than government dictate), a market was created. The government had a vested interest in keeping the cost of the medallions as high as possible, even though they had no actual value, so it was a virtually recession-proof scheme. A cottage industry of credit unions cropped up, catering almost exclusively to the drivers and allowing them to take out massive loans against the value of the medallions.

Then Uber and Lyft came to town and the value of the medallions plunged. But nobody was about to let the drivers off the hook and the credit unions still wanted their pound of flesh. That brings us where we are today.

So who was it that buried the cab drivers financially? Uber and Lyft, the credit unions, or the municipal government that constructed this rolling scheme in the first place? We report, you decide.

The post Even the NY Times finds bankrupt taxi drivers shouldn’t be blaming Uber appeared first on Hot Air.

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Could Bill de Blasio lose his job while running for President?

Westlake Legal Group BillDeBlasio Could Bill de Blasio lose his job while running for President? The Blog removal New York City mayor charter Bill de Blasio

The most widely mocked presidential campaign of this cycle may not land Big Apple Mayor Bill de Blasio in the White House, but at least, in theory, it could put him on the unemployment line. This weekend the New York Post brought up the rather inconvenient fact that Hizzoner has effectively absconded from the city and is spending pretty much all of his time on the campaign trail. So how is he managing to run the most populous city in the nation while he’s out on the road? The answer is that he’s not, which means that he’s not doing his job. And owing to an obscure (never invoked) codicil in the city charter, a small board of elected officials have the ability to remove him from office and replace him.

The poison pill buried in the document’s dense legalese is the “committee on mayoral inability,” a five-member body with the power to declare the mayor “temporarily unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the office.

Comptroller Scott Stringer — who has publicly worried about the mayor’s distraction — is a member, along with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the longest-serving of the city’s five beeps.

The committee would also include two mayoral appointees, Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter and a deputy mayor to be named later, by de Blasio himself.

I’ll confess that I’d never heard of this rule either, but it’s apparently a real thing. The Committee on Mayoral Inability is described in the City Charter under Chapter 1, section (d)(2) and it plays out precisely as described in the article at the Post. It appears to have been primarily designed for situations where the Governor removes the Mayor from office (I didn’t know he could do that either), or for situations where the Mayor is unable to perform his duties due to sickness. But it includes some vague descriptions regarding “other reasons” so it sounds like it applies.

So what happens if they decided to form up the committee and give de Blasio the boot? According to the charter, “the powers and duties of the office of mayor shall devolve upon the public advocate or the comptroller in that order .”

I somehow doubt this is going to happen, but it at least gave the press something to chat about over the weekend. The Post got Rudy Giuliani to weigh in on the plan, but he dismissed the idea of removing de Blasio. Though probably not for the reasons you would expect. Rather than defending Bill, Rudy said, “he doesn’t do anything, anyway. The city runs itself. He won’t be missed.”

Ouch.

Some might argue that the city actually runs better without the Mayor dipping his beak into every issue of the day. But if New York continues to chug along just fine with the boss basically living in Iowa and New Hampshire, we are left to wonder why we bother keeping him around in the first place. If nothing else, this little exercise provides an education in just how different city charters can be. In New York City there are all manner of ways to remove a sitting mayor if the need arises. In Baltimore, unless the mayor is convicted of a crime, you can’t get them out of the office without using dynamite.

The post Could Bill de Blasio lose his job while running for President? appeared first on Hot Air.

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As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money

Westlake Legal Group author-brian-m-rosenthal-thumbLarge As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money United States Taxicabs and Taxicab Drivers Taxi and Limousine Commission Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Office of the Comptroller of the Currency New York State New York Department of Financial Services New York City National Credit Union Administration Medallion Financial Corporation Matthew W. Daus Giuliani, Rudolph W Gary Roth Federal Reserve System Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Dennis Dollar de Blasio, Bill Cuomo, Andrew M Credit Unions Credit and Debt Bloomberg, Michael R Banking and Financial Institutions Auctions

May 19, 2019

ImageWestlake Legal Group 20taxiregulate-jump2-articleLarge-v3 As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money United States Taxicabs and Taxicab Drivers Taxi and Limousine Commission Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Office of the Comptroller of the Currency New York State New York Department of Financial Services New York City National Credit Union Administration Medallion Financial Corporation Matthew W. Daus Giuliani, Rudolph W Gary Roth Federal Reserve System Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Dennis Dollar de Blasio, Bill Cuomo, Andrew M Credit Unions Credit and Debt Bloomberg, Michael R Banking and Financial Institutions Auctions

Wael Ghobrayal, an Egyptian immigrant, bought a taxi medallion for $890,000 and now cannot make his loan payments.CreditKholood Eid for The New York Times

[Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

At a cramped desk on the 22nd floor of a downtown Manhattan office building, Gary Roth spotted a looming disaster.

An urban planner with two master’s degrees, Mr. Roth had a new job in 2010 analyzing taxi policy for the New York City government. But almost immediately, he noticed something disturbing: The price of a taxi medallion — the permit that lets a driver own a cab — had soared to nearly $700,000 from $200,000. In order to buy medallions, drivers were taking out loans they could not afford.

Mr. Roth compiled his concerns in a report, and he and several colleagues warned that if the city did not take action, the loans would become unsustainable and the market could collapse.

They were not the only ones worried about taxi medallions. In Albany, state inspectors gave a presentation to top officials showing that medallion owners were not making enough money to support their loans. And in Washington, D.C., federal examiners repeatedly noted that banks were increasing profits by steering cabbies into risky loans.

They were all ignored.

Medallion prices rose above $1 million before crashing in late 2014, wiping out the futures of thousands of immigrant drivers and creating a crisis that has continued to ravage the industry today. Despite years of warning signs, at least seven government agencies did little to stop the collapse, The New York Times found.

Instead, eager to profit off medallions or blinded by the taxi industry’s political connections, the agencies that were supposed to police the industry helped a small group of bankers and brokers to reshape it into their own moneymaking machine, according to internal records and interviews with more than 50 former government employees.

For more than a decade, the agencies reduced oversight of the taxi trade, exempted it from regulations, subsidized its operations and promoted its practices, records and interviews showed.

Their actions turned one of the best-known symbols of New York — its signature yellow cabs — into a financial trap for thousands of immigrant drivers. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records, and many more struggle to stay afloat.

“Nobody wanted to upset the industry,” said David Klahr, who from 2007 to 2016 held several management posts at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency that oversees cabs. “Nobody wanted to kill the golden goose.”

New York City in particular failed the taxi industry, The Times found. Two former mayors, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, placed political allies inside the Taxi and Limousine Commission and directed it to sell medallions to help them balance budgets and fund priorities. Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the policies.

CreditKholood Eid for The New York Times

Under Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. de Blasio, the city made more than $855 million by selling taxi medallions and collecting taxes on private sales, according to the city.

But during that period, much like in the mortgage lending crisis, a group of industry leaders enriched themselves by artificially inflating medallion prices. They encouraged medallion buyers to borrow as much as possible and ensnared them in interest-only loans and other one-sided deals that often required them to pay hefty fees, forfeit their legal rights and give up most of their monthly incomes.

When the medallion market collapsed, the government largely abandoned the drivers who bore the brunt of the crisis. Officials did not bail out borrowers or persuade banks to soften loan terms.

“They sell us medallions, and they knew it wasn’t worth price. They knew,” said Wael Ghobrayal, 42, an Egyptian immigrant who bought a medallion at a city auction for $890,000 and now cannot make his loan payments and support his three children.

“They lost nothing. I lost everything,” he said.

The Times conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed thousands of records and built several databases to unravel the story of the downfall of the taxi industry in New York and across the United States. The investigation unearthed a collapse that was years in the making, aided almost as much by regulators as by taxi tycoons.

Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation.
‘They Were Conned’: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers

May 19, 2019

Westlake Legal Group 00medallionsnewFINALpromo-threeByTwoSmallAt2X-v3 As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money United States Taxicabs and Taxicab Drivers Taxi and Limousine Commission Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Office of the Comptroller of the Currency New York State New York Department of Financial Services New York City National Credit Union Administration Medallion Financial Corporation Matthew W. Daus Giuliani, Rudolph W Gary Roth Federal Reserve System Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Dennis Dollar de Blasio, Bill Cuomo, Andrew M Credit Unions Credit and Debt Bloomberg, Michael R Banking and Financial Institutions Auctions

Publicly, government officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing firms such as Uber and Lyft.

In interviews with The Times, they blamed each other.

The officials who ran the city Taxi and Limousine Commission in the run-up to the crash said it was the job of bank examiners, not the commission, to control lending practices.

The New York Department of Financial Services said that while it supervised some of the banks involved in the taxi industry, it deferred to federal inspectors in many cases.

The federal agency that oversaw many of the largest lenders in the industry, the National Credit Union Administration, said those lenders were meeting the needs of borrowers.

The N.C.U.A. released a March 2019 internal audit that scolded its regulators for not aggressively enforcing rules in medallion lending. But even that audit partially absolved the government. The lenders, it said, all had boards of directors that were supposed to prevent reckless practices.

And several officials criticized Congress, which two decades ago excepted credit unions in the taxi industry from some rules that applied to other credit unions. After that, the officials said, government agencies had to treat those lenders differently.

Ultimately, former employees said, the regulatory system was set up to ensure that lenders were financially stable, and medallions were sold. But almost nothing protected the drivers.

Matthew W. Daus, far right, at a hearing of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2004. CreditMarilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Matthew W. Daus was an unconventional choice to regulate New York’s taxi industry. He was a lawyer from Brooklyn and a leader of a political club that backed Mr. Giuliani for mayor.

The Giuliani administration hired him as a lawyer for the Taxi and Limousine Commission before appointing him chairman in 2001, a leadership post he kept after Mr. Bloomberg became mayor in 2002.

The commission oversaw the drivers and fleets that owned the medallions for the city’s 12,000 cabs. It licensed all participants and decided what cabs could charge, where they could go and which type of vehicle they could use.

And under Mr. Bloomberg, it also began selling 1,000 new medallions.

At the time, the mayor said the growing city needed more yellow cabs. But he also was eager for revenue. He had a $3.8 billion hole in his budget.

The sales put the taxi commission in an unusual position.

It had a long history of being entangled with the industry. Its first chairman, appointed in 1971, was convicted of a bribery scheme involving an industry lobbyist. Four other leaders since then had worked in the business.

It often sent staffers to conferences where companies involved in the taxi business paid for liquor, meals and tickets to shows, and at least one past member of its board had run for office in a campaign financed by the industry.

Still, the agency had never been asked to generate so much money from the business it was supposed to be regulating.

Former staffers said officials chose to sell medallions with the method they thought would bring in the most revenue: a series of limited auctions that required participants to submit sealed bids above ever-increasing minimums.

Ahead of the sales, the city placed ads on television and radio, and in newspapers and newsletters, and held seminars promoting the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“Medallions have a long history as a solid investment with steady growth,” Mr. Daus wrote in one newsletter. In addition to guaranteed employment, he wrote, “a medallion is collateral that can assist in home financing, college tuition or even ‘worry-free’ retirement.”

At the first auctions under Mr. Bloomberg in 2004, bids topped $300,000, surprising experts.

Some former staffers said in interviews they believed the ad campaign inappropriately inflated prices by implying medallions would make buyers rich, no matter the cost. Seven said they complained.

The city eventually added a disclaimer to ads, saying past performance did not guarantee future results. But it kept advertising.

During the same period, the city also posted information on its website that said that medallion prices were, on average, 13 percent higher than they really were, according to a Times data analysis.

In several interviews, Mr. Daus defended the ad campaigns, saying they reached people who had been unable to break into the tight market. The ads were true at the time, he said. He added he had never heard internal complaints about the ads.

In all, the city held 16 auctions between 2004 and 2014.

“People don’t realize how organized it is,” Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial, a lender to medallion buyers, said in a 2011 interview with Tearsheet Podcast. “The City of New York, more or less, is our partner because they want to see prices go as high as possible.”

New York City made more than $855 million from taxi medallion sales under Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.CreditRichard Perry/The New York Times

For decades, a niche banking system had grown up around the taxi industry, and at its center were about half a dozen nonprofit credit unions that specialized in medallion loans. But as the auctions continued, the families that ran the credit unions began to grow frustrated.

Around them, they saw other lenders making money by issuing loans that they could not because of the rules governing credit unions. They recognized a business opportunity, and they wanted in.

They found a receptive audience at the National Credit Union Administration.

The N.C.U.A. was the small federal agency that regulated the nation’s credit unions. It set the rules, examined their books and insured their accounts.

Like the city taxi commission, the N.C.U.A. had long had ties to the industry that it regulated. One judge had called it a “rogue federal agency” focused on promoting the industry.

In 2004, its chairman was Dennis Dollar, a former Mississippi state representative who had previously worked as the chief executive of a credit union. He had just been inducted into the Mississippi Credit Union Hall of Fame, and he had said one of his top priorities was streamlining regulation.

Dennis Dollar, the former chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, is now a consultant in the industry. CreditJay Mallin/Bloomberg News

Under Mr. Dollar and others, the N.C.U.A. issued waivers that exempted medallion loans from longstanding rules, including a regulation requiring each loan to have a down payment of at least 20 percent. The waivers allowed the lenders to keep up with competitors and to write more profitable loans.

Mr. Dollar, who left government to become a consultant for credit unions, said the agency was following the lead of Congress, which passed a law in 1998 exempting credit unions specializing in medallion loans from some regulations. The law signaled that those lenders needed leeway, such as the waivers, he said.

“If we did not do so, the average cabdriver couldn’t get a medallion loan,” Mr. Dollar said.

The federal law and the N.C.U.A. waivers were not the only benefits the industry received. The federal government also provided many medallion lenders with financial assistance and guaranteed a portion of their taxi loans, assuring that if those loans failed, they would still be partially paid, according to records and interviews.

As lenders wrote increasingly risky loans, medallion prices neared $500,000 in 2006.

Under Mr. Bloomberg, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission began selling 1,000 new medallions.CreditSuzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Another agency was also supposed to be keeping an eye on lending practices. New York State banking regulators are required to inspect all financial institutions chartered in the state. But after 2008, they were forced to focus their attention on the banks most affected by the global economic meltdown, according to former employees.

As a result, some industry veterans said, the state stopped examining medallion loans closely.

“The state banking department would come in, and they’d be doing the exam in one room, and the N.C.U.A. would be in another room,” said Larry Fisher, who was then the medallion lending supervisor at Melrose Credit Union, one of the biggest lenders. “And you could catch the state banking department snoozing and napping and going on the internet and not doing much at all.”

The state banking department, which is now called the New York Department of Financial Services, disputed that characterization and said it had acted consistently and appropriately.

Former federal regulators described a similar trend at their agencies after the recession.

Some former employees of the N.C.U.A., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said that as medallion prices climbed, they tried to raise issues with loans and were told not to worry. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve Board also oversaw some lenders and did not intervene.

A spokesman for the Federal Reserve said the agency was not a primary regulator of the taxi lending industry. The rest of the agencies declined to comment.

“It was obvious that the loans were unusual and risky,” said Patrick Collins, a former N.C.U.A. examiner. But, he said, there was a belief inside his agency that the loans would be fine because the industry had been stable for decades.

Meanwhile, in New York City, the taxi commission reduced oversight.

For years, it had made medallion purchasers file forms describing how they came up with the money, including details on all loans. It also had required industry participants to submit annual disclosures on their finances, loans and conflicts of interest.

But officials never analyzed the forms filed by buyers, and in the 2000s, they stopped requiring the annual disclosures altogether.

“Reviewing these disclosures was an onerous lift for us,” the commission’s communications office said in a recent email.

By 2008, the price of a medallion rose to $600,000.

At around the same time, the commission began focusing on new priorities. It started developing the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” a model for future cabs.

The agency’s main enforcement activities targeted drivers who cheated passengers or discriminated against people of color. “Nobody really scrutinized medallion transfers,” said Charles Tortorici, a former commission lawyer.

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement that during the mayor’s tenure, the city improved the industry by installing credit card machines and GPS devices, making fleets more environmentally efficient and creating green taxis for boroughs outside Manhattan.

“The industry was always its own worst enemy, fighting every reform tooth and nail,” said the spokesman, Marc La Vorgna. “We put our energy and political capital into the reforms that most directly and immediately impacted the riding public.”

Records show that since 2008, the taxi commission has not taken a single enforcement action against brokers, the powerful players who arrange medallion sales and loans.

Alex Korenkov, a broker, suggested in an interview that he and other brokers took notice of the city’s hands-off approach.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “If governing body does not care, then free-for-all.”

CreditGabriella Angotti-Jones/The New York Times

By the time that Mr. Roth wrote his report at the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2010, it was clear that something strange was happening in the medallion market.

Mr. Daus gave a speech that year that mentioned the unusual lending practices. During the speech, he said banks were letting medallion buyers obtain loans without any down payment. Experts have since said that should have raised red flags. But at the time, Mr. Daus seemed pleased.

“Some of these folks were offering zero percent down,” he said. “You tell me what bank walks around asking for zero percent down on a loan? It’s just really amazing.”

In interviews, Mr. Daus acknowledged that the practice was unusual but said the taxi commission had no authority over lending.

Inside the commission, at least four employees raised concerns about the medallion prices and lending practices, according to the employees, who described their own unease as well as Mr. Roth’s report.

David S. Yassky, a former city councilman who succeeded Mr. Daus as commission chairman in 2010, said in an interview that he never saw Mr. Roth’s report.

Mr. Yassky said the medallion prices puzzled him, but he could not determine if they were inflated, in part because people were still eager to buy. Medallions may have been undervalued for decades, and the price spike could have been the market recognizing the true value, he suggested.

Meera Joshi, who became chairwoman in 2014, said in an interview that she was worried about medallion costs and lending practices but was pushed to prioritize other responsibilities. Dominic Williams, Mr. de Blasio’s chief policy adviser, said the city focused on initiatives such as improving accessibility because no one was complaining about loans.

Worries about the taxi industry also emerged at the National Credit Union Administration. In late 2011, as the price of some medallions reached $800,000, a group of agency examiners wrote a paper on the risks in the industry, according to a recent report by the agency’s inspector general.

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, inspectors routinely documented instances of credit unions violating lending rules, the inspector general’s report said.

David S. Yassky, the former chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.CreditMichael Appleton for The New York Times

The N.C.U.A. chose not to penalize medallion lenders or impose extra oversight. It did not take any wide industry action until April 2014, when it sent a letter reminding the credit unions in the taxi market to act responsibly.

Former staffers said the agency was still focused on the fallout from the recession.

A spokesman for the N.C.U.A. disputed that characterization and said the agency conducted appropriate enforcement.

He added the agency took actions to ensure the credit unions remained solvent, which was its mission. He said Congress allowed the lenders to concentrate heavily on medallion loans, which left them vulnerable when Uber and Lyft arrived.

At the New York Department of Financial Services, bank examiners noticed risky practices and interest-only loans and repeatedly wrote warnings starting in 2010, according to the state. At least one report expressed concern of a potential market bubble, the state said.

Eventually, examiners became so concerned that they made a PowerPoint presentation and called a meeting in 2014 to show it to a dozen top officials.

“Since 2001, individual medallion has risen 455%,” the presentation warned, according to a copy obtained by The Times. The presentation suggested state action, such as sending a letter to the industry or revoking charters from some lenders.

The state did neither. The department had recently merged with the insurance department, and former employees said it was finding its footing.

The department superintendent at the time, Benjamin M. Lawsky, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said he did not, as a rule, discuss his tenure at the department.

In an emailed statement, the department denied it struggled after the merger and said it took action to stop the collapse of the medallion market. A department spokesman provided a long list of warnings, suggestions and guidelines that it said examiners had issued to lenders. He said that starting in 2012, the department downgraded some of its own internal ratings of the lenders.

The list did not include any instances of the department formally penalizing a medallion lender, or making any public statement about the industry before it collapsed.

Between 2010 and 2014, as officials at every level of government failed to rein in the risky lending practices, records show that roughly 1,500 people bought taxi medallions. Overall, including refinancings of old loans and extensions required by banks, medallion owners signed at least 10,000 loans in that time.

Several regulators who tried to raise alarms said they believed the government stood aside because of the industry’s connections.

Many pointed to one company — Medallion Financial, run by the Murstein family. Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father, was a paid member of its board from 1996 until he died in 2015.

Others noted that Mr. de Blasio has long been close to the industry. When he ran for mayor in 2013, an industry lobbyist, Michael Woloz, was a top fund-raiser, records show. And Evgeny Freidman, a major fleet owner who has admitted to artificially inflating medallion prices, has said he is close to the mayor.

Some people, including Mr. Dollar, the former N.C.U.A. chairman, said Congress excepted the taxi trade from rules because the industry was supported by former United States Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York, who was then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

“The taxi industry is one of the most politically connected industries in the city,” said Fidel Del Valle, who was the chairman of the taxi commission from 1991 to 1994. He later worked as a lawyer for drivers and a consultant to an owner association run by Mr. Freidman. “It’s been that way for decades, and they’ve used that influence to push back on regulation, with a lot of success.”

A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said Medallion Financial was not regulated by the state, so the elder Mr. Cuomo’s position on the board was irrelevant. A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio said the industry’s connections did not influence the city.

Mr. Murstein, Mr. Woloz, Mr. Freidman and Mr. D’Amato all declined to comment.

“I think city will help me,” Mohammad Hossain, who is in deep debt from a taxi medallion loan, said at his family’s home in the Bronx.CreditKholood Eid for The New York Times

New York held its final independent medallion auction in February 2014. By then, concerns about medallion prices were common in the media and government offices, and Uber had established itself. Still, the city sold medallions to more than 150 bidders. (“It’s better than the stock market,” one ad said.)

Forty percent of the people who bought medallions at that auction have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records.

Mohammad Hossain, 47, from Bangladesh, who purchased a medallion for $853,000 at the auction, said he could barely make his monthly payments and was getting squeezed by his lender. “I bought medallion from the city,” he said through tears. “I think city will help me, you know. I assume that.”

The de Blasio administration’s only major response to the crisis has been to push for a cap on ride-hail cars. The City Council at first rejected a cap in 2015 before approving it last year.

Taxi industry veterans said the cap did not address the cause of the crisis: the lending practices.


COMING IN JUNE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES: “THE WEEKLY” ON FX AND HULU

Watch a preview of our television show, “The Weekly,” which will feature The Times’ investigation of the taxi industry. Mohammad Hossain emptied his savings to buy a taxi medallion. He had no idea he had just signed away his financial freedom.

Video

Westlake Legal Group TW_TheWeekly_Taxi_04-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600 As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money United States Taxicabs and Taxicab Drivers Taxi and Limousine Commission Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Office of the Comptroller of the Currency New York State New York Department of Financial Services New York City National Credit Union Administration Medallion Financial Corporation Matthew W. Daus Giuliani, Rudolph W Gary Roth Federal Reserve System Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Dennis Dollar de Blasio, Bill Cuomo, Andrew M Credit Unions Credit and Debt Bloomberg, Michael R Banking and Financial Institutions Auctions

Richard Weinberg, a taxi commission hearing officer from 1988 to 2002 and a lawyer for drivers since then, said when the medallion bubble began to burst, the city should have frozen prices, adjusted fares and fees and convinced banks to be flexible with drivers. That could have allowed prices to fall slowly. “That could’ve saved a lot of people,” he said.

In an interview, Dean Fuleihan, the first deputy mayor, said the city did help taxi owners, including by reducing some fees, taxes and inspection mandates, and by talking to banks about loans. He said that if the City Council had passed the cap in 2015, it would have helped.

“We do care about those drivers, we care about those families. We attempted throughout this period to take actions,” he said.

Federal regulators also have not significantly helped medallion owners.

In 2017 and 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed or merged several credit unions for “unsafe business practices” in medallion lending. It took over many of the loans, but did not soften terms, according to borrowers. Instead, it tried to get money out as quickly as possible.

The failure of the credit unions has cost the national credit union insurance fund more than $750 million, which will hurt all credit union members.

In August 2018, the N.C.U.A. closed Melrose in what it said was the biggest credit union liquidation in United States history. The agency barred Melrose’s general counsel from working for credit unions and brought civil charges against its former C.E.O., Alan Kaufman, saying he used company funds to help industry partners in exchange for gifts.

The general counsel, Mitchell Reiver, declined to answer questions but said he did nothing wrong. Mr. Kaufman said in an interview that the N.C.U.A. made up the charges to distract from its role in the crisis.

“I’m definitely a scapegoat,” Mr. Kaufman said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

After he struggled to repay his taxi medallion loan, Abel Vela left his family in New York and moved back to Peru, where living costs were cheaper.  CreditAngela Ponce for The New York Times

During the medallion bubble, the city produced a television commercial to promote the permits. In the ad, which aired in 2004, four cabbies stood around a taxi discussing the perks of the job. One said buying a medallion was the best decision he had ever made. They all smiled. Then Mr. Daus appeared on screen to announce an auction.

Fifteen years later, the cabbies remember the ad with scorn. Three of the four were eventually enticed to refinance their original loans under far riskier terms that left them in heavy debt.

One of the cabbies, Abel Vela, had to leave his wife and children and return to his home country, Peru, because living costs were lower there. He is now 74 and still working to survive.

Video

Westlake Legal Group tax-commercial-poster-superJumbo As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money United States Taxicabs and Taxicab Drivers Taxi and Limousine Commission Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Office of the Comptroller of the Currency New York State New York Department of Financial Services New York City National Credit Union Administration Medallion Financial Corporation Matthew W. Daus Giuliani, Rudolph W Gary Roth Federal Reserve System Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Dennis Dollar de Blasio, Bill Cuomo, Andrew M Credit Unions Credit and Debt Bloomberg, Michael R Banking and Financial Institutions Auctions

The city aired a commercial in 2004 to promote an upcoming auction of taxi medallions. The ad featured real cab drivers, but three of them eventually took on risky loans and suffered financial blows.

The only woman in the ad, Marie Applyrs, a Haitian immigrant, fell behind on her loan payments and filed for bankruptcy in November 2017. She lost her cab, and her home. She now lives with her children, switching from home to home every few months.

“When the ad happened, the taxi was in vogue. I think I still have the tape somewhere. It was glamorous,” she said. “Now, I’m in the poorhouse.”

Today, the only person from the television commercial still active in the industry is Mr. Daus. He works as a lawyer for lenders.

[Read Part 1 of The Times’s investigation: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers]

Madeline Rosenberg contributed reporting. Doris Burke contributed research. Produced by Jeffrey Furticella and Meghan Louttit.

Follow Brian M. Rosenthal on Twitter at @brianmrosenthal

Uber Hit With Cap as New York City Takes Lead in Crackdown

Aug. 8, 2018

Westlake Legal Group merlin_141989814_306dc205-5707-43ac-9df1-695f81105841-threeByTwoSmallAt2X As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money United States Taxicabs and Taxicab Drivers Taxi and Limousine Commission Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Office of the Comptroller of the Currency New York State New York Department of Financial Services New York City National Credit Union Administration Medallion Financial Corporation Matthew W. Daus Giuliani, Rudolph W Gary Roth Federal Reserve System Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Dennis Dollar de Blasio, Bill Cuomo, Andrew M Credit Unions Credit and Debt Bloomberg, Michael R Banking and Financial Institutions Auctions
It Was Billed as the ‘Taxi of Tomorrow.’ Tomorrow Didn’t Last Long.

June 12, 2018

Westlake Legal Group merlin_139288551_c5edfd2a-8c2b-4ee7-88b8-7b840030f7e3-threeByTwoSmallAt2X As Thousands of Taxi Drivers Were Trapped in Loans, Top Officials Counted the Money United States Taxicabs and Taxicab Drivers Taxi and Limousine Commission Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Office of the Comptroller of the Currency New York State New York Department of Financial Services New York City National Credit Union Administration Medallion Financial Corporation Matthew W. Daus Giuliani, Rudolph W Gary Roth Federal Reserve System Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Dennis Dollar de Blasio, Bill Cuomo, Andrew M Credit Unions Credit and Debt Bloomberg, Michael R Banking and Financial Institutions Auctions
Wall St.’s Turmoil Sends Stocks Reeling

Sept. 15, 2008

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De Blasio: I might not make the first debate

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The Democrats have set a fairly low bar to qualify for the first round of debates this summer, but it’s still a bar nonetheless. Not everyone is on track to meet it either. The ones in danger of not making the cut include New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, despite having gotten into the race relatively early and being the beneficiary of significant earned media. And now New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is in the race (for some reason) and is facing the same challenges. Will he be able to qualify? Even Hizzoner doesn’t seem to think so. (Politico)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged Friday he may not qualify for the first presidential debate next month, but argued that isn’t a telltale sign about his overall chances of winning the Democratic nomination.

As he kicked off his campaign here in the nation’s first presidential selection state, the mayor said he has achieved one debate stage requirement: securing at least 1 percent in three polls. But given the size of the Democratic field, which now totals 23 candidates, he may also need to raise contributions from 65,000 individual donors.

De Blasio opened a federal campaign account Thursday. Per election rules, he cannot transfer any of the money he had been raising since last fall for the state and federal political action committees he set up as he mulled a White House bid.

I’m not sure where de Blasio is coming up with the three polls where he scores 1% or above. The latest Fox poll yesterday didn’t even include him. Monday’s Morning Consult survey did include de Blasio, but he literally registered 0%. Not one person picked him as their favorite. The Emerson poll on the same day didn’t include the mayor.

And let’s remember that the rules say that it has to be a reputable poll taken either nationally or in one of the early voting states. You can’t just send your wife out to ask thirty people in Central Park and come back saying you scored ten percent.

To be fair, none of these surveys were taken after de Blasio’s official announcement that he was running. Any candidate – possibly even de Blasio – can hope for some sort of bump or boomlet after their announcement, so maybe we’re all reading the cards wrong and there’s some sort of hidden pocket of de Blasio support lurking out there. But color me dubious at best.

The second half of the formula is the fundraising part. He’ll need to take in money from 65,000 people from a minimum of 20 states, including at least 200 unique donors per state. He only just opened up his campaign account on Thursday and he can’t transfer any of his PAC money or previous donations into it. Just doing one of those two things could qualify him for a spot in the debates, but the Democrats have already placed a limit on the total number of participants at twenty. Preference will be given to candidates who achieve both the polling numbers and fundraising goal if more than 20 qualify. Beyond that, they’ll pare it down by total polling numbers if they have to.

So where does that leave Bill de Blasio? In this one case, he’s probably correct. I’m guessing it will leave him watching the debates on television like the rest of us.

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The fantasy world of a de Blasio POTUS bid

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Yes, I know Allahpundit wrote about this last night, but this is one candidacy I can’t keep my mouth shut on. I’ve been covering New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for a long time now and up until this point, I’d always assumed that his presumed flirtations with a presidential run were more of a ploy to simply raise his national profile in the Democratic Party. I never thought he was actually going to do it. And yet, here we are.

So as Hizzonor embarks on what has quickly become the most mocked and ridiculed presidential bid in modern history, let’s take a brief walk down memory lane. Leave aside for the moment how comically inept he has been as mayor. Forget about his endless stream of wacky ideas like eliminating skyscrapers in the Big Apple. We can even skip over that time he murdered the groundhog. Let’s just get straight to the corruption.

He made his announcement in the same week that two men literally pleaded guilty to bribing him and are going to prison.

But they weren’t the only ones. Harendra Singh pleaded guilty to bribing the Mayor last year. Jona Rechnitz had already made the same plea deal in 2017.

Of course, questionable handling of the public purse seems to run in the family. His wife made almost a billion dollars disappear for a mental health program that delivered basically zero results and where nobody seems to have kept track of the money.

Or shall we talk about Jeremy Reichberg and the private jet with hookers onboard heading for Vegas?

Bill de Blasio managed to get himself elected mayor in what is very likely the only place in the country where he could attract any votes from people not sharing his last name. And he immediately set to work figuring out ways to get around the city’s campaign finance laws. In that, at least, he was stunningly successful. Under his leadership, the mass transit system has turned into a dysfunctional, urine splattered mess. His bungled management of the New York City Housing Authority has left thousands of residents in apartments without heat or power for months on end. (The NYCHA is now in federal receivership because it financially collapsed.)

If he wants to talk about education as a campaign promise, ask him about his “Renewal Schools” program. That gem was supposed to turn around the city’s failing schools and advance educational opportunities for minority students. After flushing more than $750 million into it, the program was abandoned with no measurable results.

This guy basically has the opposite of the Midas Touch. Everything he gets his paws on almost invariably turns to crap. And now he wants to run for President? Even I’m not foolish enough to hope that the Democrats would hand Trump a second term by nominating this guy. Go home, Bill. You’re drunk.

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Mystery assailants of Jewish men in Brooklyn still at large

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Last week we looked at the story of a Hasidic Jewish man who was attacked in Brooklyn. The assailant fled, but there was security camera video of the attack available. As it turns out, however, there was another attack in the same neighborhood on another Jewish victim. That man was seriously injured and may have fallen prey to the same group of young men. And once again, cameras captured the alleged assailants quite clearly. And yet they remain on the loose. (CBS New York)

Days after police released video of suspects wanted in two separate anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn, there is new information.
One of the victims spoke exclusively with CBS2’s Lisa Rozner on Sunday, telling her he was so badly beaten, there are still bruises on his face one week later.

Police are hoping the public recognizes four men, each captured on video wearing sweatshirts and believed to be in their 20s. The NYPD said the group assaulted a 42-year-old Jewish man in Williamsburg last Saturday shortly after 1 a.m.

“‘Jews. We hate Jews,’ and a few times they say this,” the victim told CBS2 by phone.

Here’s the brief video report, including the captured images of the alleged attackers. This should be of particular interest to anyone reading this in New York City.

The second victim fared much more poorly than the gentleman we featured in the previous article. The original victim only received one violent punch to the side of the head and had his hat knocked off. The second person was seriously beaten, with swelling to the face that has lasted for a week. He’s unable to even return to work.

One troubling aspect of this story is the lack of leads for the police to follow. Originally, local media wasn’t even putting out the video or descriptions of the assailants in the first attack. But now they’ve finally gotten up to speed and it’s all over the local news. The images in the videos and still photos seem quite clear. If those young gang bangers are local talent, surely somebody knows who they are and could try to collect the reward by contacting the authorities.

These attacks aren’t taking place in a vacuum, either. Just this month the NYPD reported that there has been a stunning increase of antisemitic attacks in the city since January, up 82% from the first quarter of 2018. Nearly all of these attacks have one thing in common. The victims had no idea who their attackers were so there was obviously no history between them. The majority of cases didn’t involve a robbery of any kind. They were simply attacked because they were wearing traditional Jewish garb while walking the streets and minding their own business.

We cover too many stories of antisemitism in the public speech of community leaders and even elected officials. But this goes far beyond verbal provocation. Someone has declared war on the Jewish community in New York City and they are literally beating people down in the streets. The attackers need to be found and made examples of.

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More de Blasio donors plead guilty in corruption cases

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Mayor de Blasio, you may want to call your office.

Bill de Blasio is still busy pushing his not-yet-declared presidential bid, but things back at home aren’t looking so great. As the New York Post reports this week, two more of Hizzonor’s political cronies and donors have pleaded guilty to campaign finance law violations. I’ve lost track of how many this makes, but the latest two seem to have been some bold and shameless traders in political influence.

Two corrupt brothers whose engineering firm was awarded millions of dollars in city contracts pleaded guilty Monday to illegally funneling cash to Mayor de Blasio’s 2013 election campaign.

Husam Ahmad, the CEO of HAKS and part-owner of SIMCO, copped to one count of first-degree bribery in the scheme, which also included an allegedly corrupt DEP official. Ahmad is expected to be sentenced to two to six years behind bars July 8.

Court papers say his plea agreement will also end a Brooklyn federal investigation into him but do not elaborate on the nature of that probe.

In addition to the CEO of HAKS, his brother, CFO Shahid Akhtar, pleaded to two counts of offering a false instrument for filing. He’s expected to get one to three years at sentencing. The company will pay a fine of three million dollars.

The brothers didn’t employ any particularly subtle tactics in funneling money to de Blasio’s campaign coffers. They got their staff members at HAKS to make maximum donations with the understanding that they would be reimbursed in the form of bonuses. And through some tremendous “coincidence,” the company received more than $36 million in municipal contracts. Funny how that works out, eh?

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this story playing out in de Blasio’s orbit. There’s a guy named Harendra Singh who is currently sitting in jail after pleading guilty to bribing the mayor to the tune of $25K. The other corruption trials swirling around de Blasio’s administration and various campaign adventures could make for a heck of a Hollywood movie. Another guy named Jona Rechnitz also pleaded guilty to bribing the Mayor in 2017 and went to prison. (And that story involved private jets with hookers onboard flying off to Vegas.)

Yet somehow, in all of this, no charges are ever filed against Mayor de Blasio himself. And the guy fancies himself presidential material. One can only imagine the fun that his Democratic opponents in the primary would have with these stories if he actually declared and began to gain any traction in the polls.

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