Exclusive: NY State Civil Rights department investigates the BPCA

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cropped-People-who-left-BPCA-thompson-anne-fenton-demitri-boutris-matt-monahan-gayle-horwitz-mateoMay 5, 2014- By Steven E. Greer, MD

The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), led by Chairman and CEO Denis Mehiel, has been the target of numerous state and federal investigations in the short time since Mr. Mehiel was appointed by Governor Cuomo in June of 2012. Two of his presidents have been removed from office (Gayle Horwitz and Demitri Boutris), along with two senior staffers, after scandals erupted.

BatteryPark.TV has now exclusively learned that the BPCA is the target of at least two more investigations by the New York State Department of Civil Rights. In a Memorandum sent to the Alphonso David of the NY Civil Rights office by BPCA senior staffer Kirk Swanson (a BPCA employee hired in November of 2012 by Dennis Mehiel for a salary of $120,000), numerous comments allege laws and regulations are being routinely ignored by the BPCA.

The memo begins by alleging that the CFO of the BPCA, Robert Serpico, has a long history of making sexually inappropriate comments to female staff. It states, “A female paralegal, who is the subject of a recent report filed with Anne Hohenstein of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations….was subjected to an overly-aggressive, personal, and humiliating interrogation regarding her office dress by Brenda McIntyre, the current Vice President of Human Relations….My subordinate approached the then-acting President, Robert Serpico, to apprise him of Ms. McIntyre’s conduct and to seek his help and advice and to formally complain about her treatment. Mr. Serpico’s response, I was told, was to downplay the event and to further humiliate her through a sexually inappropriate gesture that made an issue of her body shape and apparent attractiveness. I have no reason to doubt my subordinate’s side of the story – I personally have heard Mr. Serpico say provocative and inappropriate comments in front of female staff and watched him on two occasions bring up uncomfortable references to “twerking” in senior staff meetings (both incidents occurring in March of this year, as staff lawyers were involved). I found it particularly disturbing that our new President, the acting General Counsel (Seema Singh), and Ms. McIntyre laughed at the twerking references, apparently oblivious to the recklessness of this conduct in light of the pending report to Ms. Hohenstein.”.

A source close to the BPCA informed BatteryPark.TV that Mr. Serpico has a long history of this type of inappropriate behavior. His personnel file is “Full of reprimands for doing things, such as emailing sexually explicit cartoons to BPCA staff”, the source said.

Recall, the former BPCA President, Demitri Boutris, was removed from office last year after other complaints from staff were investigated. Some African-American BPCA staff alleged that he used the word “nigger”. Chairman and CEO Mehiel then used taxpayer dollars to hire a private law firm to “investigate”, much like Governor Christie’s hiring of lawyer Randy Mastro to “investigate” Bridgegate.

The next allegation made by Mr. Swanson in his memo to the New York Civil Rights office deals with the inappropriate allocation of BPCA-funds, circumventing state law that governs such contracts and purchasing. The newly hired BPCA President, Shari Hyman (which itself is a scandal because she is the wife of the head of the main New York ethics investigative body, JCOPE, that has investigated Mr. Mehiel, thereby posing a conflict of interest.), and head of human relations, Brenda McIntyre, allegedly awarded a large contract to rebuild the BPCA website to personal friends, rather than properly shop around for the best service at the best price. Also, legal work contracts were allegedly awarded improperly.

The memo states, “In March of this year, I was informed that BPCA’s Legal Department wanted to submit a contract amendment for additional money to BPCA’s Contract Selection Committee (“CSC”— an internal approval body that I chair as Chief Contracting Officer) for approval. It quickly became clear to me that the original contract was not submitted to the CSC in clear violation of BPCA’s Procurement Guidelines.

I informed Legal that I, and the members of the CSC, would need an explanation why this happened. Approximately a month went by before I heard back from Ms. Singh, the acting General Counsel….

What is abundantly clear from the documentation provided is that there was a concerted effort to bypass the approval process (the contract involves legal services relating to the “issuance of the Authority’s auction rate securities and related swap and refinancing transactions”), claim a status for the contract that it did not possess (being “pre-qualified legal counsel”), and most egregiously, have the contract executed while I was away on a two-day vacation (having a subordinate with no signing authority sign in my place). A further troubling point is that our Finance Department processed the contract without CSC approval—again, a clear, and suspicious, violation of process.

At my termination meeting, the attached email was cited by President Hyman as one of the reasons I was being terminated. The reason: the email was “nasty.” Apparently the substance of the email was not an issue.”.

The memo goes on to detail another inappropriate business transaction, “On March 28, the CSC of both BPCA and Battery Park City Parks Conservancy (“BPCPC”) approved separate contracts with “Revolver Studios” for website redesign services. The website redesign was described as a “high-priority” project for the new president, and my understanding was that Revolver Studios was a company brought to the staff’s attention by Ms. Hyman herself.

When I was told by the Assistant to the Chairman/CEO, that Revolver Studios would be chosen as a “discretionary procurement” (being below $50,000 for pending services and not requiring a “formal” competitive process—such as an RFP), I reminded him that we nonetheless had to establish that their cost was competitive to justify the choice (this is usually done through obtaining quotes, preferably three, for said services—this practice reflects “best practices” and guidance from the New York State Procurement Guidelines and other government sources).

Only one additional quote was obtained for consideration, and under pressure for this “priority” item, the CSC voted its approval.

At a subsequent senior staff meeting, we were informed that work had started with Revolver (namely through “branding” preparation), though it was clear that the contract had not yet been drafted, let alone executed. Under no circumstances, excepting an emergency or other critical considerations, should work on a contract begin before a contract is fully executed by both parties.

After the meeting, I made this point clear to the Assistant to the Chairman/CEO. On the day of my termination, Legal was hurriedly preparing “Letters of Intent” (a mechanism that allows for spending on a project before final contract execution). Again, work had already begun on these two projects, and it is my guess that these Letters of Intent were likely postdated. Clearly, a violation of a basic and fundamental control had taken place.

It is my firm conviction that the Governor, the State and City of New York, the Members, the residents and tenants of Battery Park City, the Authority, and its numerous stakeholders are being poorly served. I do not bring these circumstances to your attention lightly—the far easier course of action for me to take would be to walk away.

That, however, is not an option. I believe in the work I did for the Authority, and more importantly, I believe in the other members of the staff, not mentioned above, who will continue to do good work and honor their commitment to the Authority, and who will continue to suffer if change is not made. I ask you to look into these matters, refer them as necessary, and seek appropriate remedies.”.

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