Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau bitterly blasted City Hall on Thursday in a multimillion-dollar money fight, using an obscenity to bash claims that he was squirreling away money to avoid fiscal scrutiny.
The city contends Morgenthau's office has kept $80 million in dozens of bank accounts that aren't subject to city officials' accounting.
"Those are chickens--- comments," Morgenthau said at a news conference.
The clash between political powerhouses — the 35-year DA who's retiring this month and the recently re-elected billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg — stems from an ongoing dispute about how to split money collected in settlements. Morgenthau has been dividing the proceeds between the state and city, but the Bloomberg administration believes the city is entitled to all the cash.
The district attorney's office is technically a state entity. But the city funds 82 percent of its budget, so city officials believe that makes it subject to city budget practices.
The city says Morgenthau has resisted city officials' attempts to look at the accounts and how money was being used.
City attorney Michael Cardozo wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Morgenthau that "in the harsh fiscal climate facing us, the city cannot tolerate a situation in which the handling of these funds is not completely transparent."
The letter, first reported by The New York Times, doesn't claim the DA's office has been misusing the money. But Cardozo said the accounts may not have been registered with the city comptroller, and expenditures were "outside of any budget process."
Morgenthau called the city's move "a failed power grab." He said his office invited City Comptroller William Thompson this week to audit its books and was confident the review would find nothing wrong.
The comptroller is elected independently of the mayor — and just happens to have come within about 5 percentage points of unseating him in November. The comptroller did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Morgenthau said the city has long known about the accounts and has richly benefited from the settlements. While the city pays about $75 million a year for the DA's operations, the city is getting $181 million this year in its share of settlement money, he said.
The sum "is even larger than the amount of money the mayor spent to get re-elected," he quipped, referring to Bloomberg's record $102 million campaign.
Responding to Morgenthau's remarks, Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said the DA owed the public full disclosure of money he had kept "hidden."
"It's time to provide a full accounting of what this public money is and how it's been spent," Loeser said.
The 90-year-old Morgenthau — the model for the original DA of TV's "Law & Order" — is stepping down when his term ends Dec. 31. Defense lawyer and litigator Cy Vance was elected in November as Morgenthau's successor.