New York: A leading Indian-American restaurateur and a major donor to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has secretly pleaded guilty to trying to bribe him to get a sweetheart lease deal for his eatery, according to court documents.
Harendra Singh, an early supporter of de Blasio’s mayoral bid who raised USD 27,000 for his 2013 run — made the admission in sealed federal courtroom proceedings in October 2016, pleading guilty to bribery and wire fraud, New York Post reported citing the court records.
During his 2016 plea, Singh for the first time spelled out his intentions in clear pay-to-play terms, “I gave these donations to the elected official in exchange for efforts by that official and other city officials to obtain a lease renewal from the city agency for my restaurant on terms that were favourable to me”.
Without naming de Blasio, Singh stood in court and said he “gave and raised tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to an elected New York City official in exchange for efforts by that official… and other city officials to obtain official action from a New York City agency that would benefit myself and restaurants I owned,” court papers show.
A transcript of the exchange refers to Singh’s meeting with a senior de Blasio aide and a city agency head on July 30, 2015 to “pressure” the agency into securing a lease renewal for the Water’s Edge restaurant Singh owned in Long Island City, Queens.
Singh owed USD 1.7 million and rent and penalties on the city-owned land at the time.
The city and Singh were close to completing a sweetheart deal when he was arrested as part of a corruption investigation on Long Island, where he also subsequently pleaded guilty to bribing officials, the report said.
De Blasio was never charged and a federal investigation into his fundraising ended with no criminal charges. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
“The allegations against this administration were never proven because they are not true,” said de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips.
“They are old news that’s been widely reported and reviewed extensively by federal prosecutors before they closed their investigation. We make decisions on the merits,” Phillips said.
Singh is the second big de Blasio donor to state on the record that he donated to the mayor in a bid to win favourable treatment from City Hall.