Prosecutors announced Thursday that they would not bring any criminal charges against New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) following parallel state and federal investigations into how he and others raised funds.
While the decision spares both de Blasio and his aides the possibility of being hit with charges during an election year, the mayor was still sharply criticized by Manhattan’s district attorney, who said, “The transactions appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the law.”
De Blasio, New York’s 109th mayor and among the highest-profile local officials nationwide, has been the subject of multiple investigations amid other struggles since taking office in 2014, including separate probes being carried out by federal and state prosecutors.
In January, de Blasio acknowledged to reporters that he was interviewed by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. He was also questioned by federal prosecutors about a month later.
District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. relayed his decision not to seek charges in a 10-page letter to the New York State Board of Elections, which had contacted his office last year to say that associates of de Blasio had committed crimes by raising money for state senate races in a way that sidestepped limits on candidate contributions.
According to Vance’s letter, his investigation ballooned to include interviews with more than 50 people, including some from City Hall, as well as analyzing more than one million documents and other materials gathered through search warrants and grand jury subpoenas.
Wealthy donors who had previously given to de Blasio were asked to give money to county groups, rather than candidate ones, because the maximum donation limits were higher for these groups, Vance wrote.
The money was then transferred to the candidate groups, which then used them on things like consultants and media advertising, a shift that “often occurred within days,” Vance said. He noted that the rapid movement of money meant that it was clear “the ultimate recipient of the funds” was already determined when the donations were first sought.
Ultimately, though, Vance said that the group sought advice from an election-law attorney who had served as de Blasio’s campaign counsel during his 2013 race, and that the group remained in regular contact with the attorney to make sure its actions remained legal.
Vance was blunt about his view of what his office investigated, writing that “this conclusion is not an endorsement of the conduct at issue.” But he said it did not appear to be “a provable violation” of the law.
During a previously scheduled appearance on WNYC, de Blasio responded to the decision by reiterating that he had acted within the law.
De Blasio’s office thanked prosecutors Thursday for publicly announcing their decision not to seek charges.
“We have been confident from the moment these reviews began that the actions of the mayor and our administration have always been within the law,” Eric Phillips, a spokesman for de Blasio, said in a statement Thursday. “The United States Attorney and Manhattan District Attorney have now put to rest any suggestion otherwise.”
Federal prosecutors also announced their decision not to bring charges in a short, unusual statement released Thursday by Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“We have conducted a thorough investigation into several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the city, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of those donors,” Kim said in a statement.
Kim said that federal prosecutors, who investigated along with the FBI, weighed “the high burden of proof, the clarity of existing law, any recent changes in the law, and the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit.”
That office decided to issue the rare public statement about the investigation “in order not to unduly influence the upcoming campaign and Mayoral election,” said Kim, just days after he assumed his job when Preet Bharara was fired by the Trump administration.