FBI agents showed up unannounced at the city’s Parks Department headquarters to question workers about a contract awarded to a company that makes so-called rat-proof trash bags. The owner of the company had donated $100,000 to the mayor’s Campaign for One New York.
Sources familiar with the investigation said they were looking into whether Mayor de Blasio himself called Parks Department workers and asked them to meet with company officials about their trash bag pitch. In the past, the company officials had complained they were having problems getting a contract with the city.
FBI agents questioned were questioning several city workers without advanced notice to try to get candid, unrehearsed answers. But lawyers for the city soon stepped in and stopped the questioning, several sources familiar with the investigation said. FBI agents were then told to leave the building.
FBI agents being turned away by city lawyers for a time caused anger behind the scenes on both sides, sources familiar with the matter said.
“The optics of that are exceedingly bad,” said former federal prosecutor and independent counsel Robert Ray. “Understandably the FBI would be upset if someone is stepping in and impairing and impeding their ability to freely talk to witnesses.”
The Mayor has repeatedly promised his team would cooperate fully with investigators.
”We are open to working with anyone doing investigation because we are confident we have done things right.”
And the Corporation Counsel’s office, headed by former U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter, said the city is cooperating fully and will make any worker available for questioning in an orderly way. He also said that the FBI should contact them in advance before agents just show up at city offices.
“If you’re the Corporation Counsel office you have a legitimate interest on behalf of your client to protect the organization and its employees," Ray said.
Two days after the standoff, FBI agents were invited back to question workers in a conference room at parks department officers in Central Park.
“We are working cooperatively with the FBI to enable them to interview city employees and to ensure they have access to attorneys,” said Corporation Counsel spokesman Nick Paolucci.
Spokesmen for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and the FBI both declined to comment.
The controversy over the mint-scented anti-rat garbage bag contract is just one of several avenues of the fundraising investigation. From the awarding of some city contracts, to efforts to raise money to help certain Democrats win state senate races, the feds and the Manhattan DA are looking into whether the de Blasio-related fundraising efforts violated any state or federal laws.
City Hall announced Thursday it was hiring two additional law firms to help handle the growing investigation.
"As part of our cooperation with law enforcement inquiries, the Law Department has contracted with the law firms Debevoise & Plimpton as well as Carter Ledyard & Milburn to represent the City and assist in document collection and review. The lawyers have been in touch with the U.S. Attorney’s office to advance that cooperation,” the city statement stated.
De Blasio has hired attorney Barry Berke to represent him and his 2013 campaign.