City taxpayers coughed up nearly $320,000 for the NYPD security detail that traipsed across the U.S. with Mayor Bill de Blasio during his ill-fated 2019 presidential run — and he won’t pay back the money.
DOI Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett, who released a blistering report Thursday that detailed, among other alleged abuses, his use of “NYPD resources for political purposes,” declared de Blasio must reimburse the city.
That demand echoed what the mayor himself was secretly told: On Thursday, it was revealed that de Blasio had asked the city’s ethics watchdog before launching his White House bid whether taxpayers could pick up the tab — and got a big no for an answer.
“The campaign or the mayor personally should have reimbursed the city for those expenses,” Garnett said, citing city Conflicts of Interest Board rulings strictly prohibiting the use of city resources for political purposes.
“That’s a violation of those rules,” she said of the mayor’s charging the taxpayers for the use of his detail during four months when he barnstormed across Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and Chicago before calling it quits in September 2019 with a 1% ranking in the polls.
Still, he’s refusing to pay — not that he has the money: De Blasio, who is flirting with running for governor, has less than $5,000 in cash left in his presidential kitty and his mayoral campaign coffers are deep in the red, records show.
In releasing its findings, DOI cited a report by THE CITY published mid-campaign in July 2019 estimating that the cop detail had, by then, cost taxpayers more than $100,000. By the end of the campaign, THE CITY calculated, the tab had risen to at least $200,000.
DOI found the final public cost by the time de Blasio threw in the towel to be $319,794 in travel costs such as airfare, meals and hotels. The estimate came from comparing NYPD records — which do not specify the purpose of the travel — to de Blasio campaign filings, Garnett said.
At times during de Blasio’s presidential bid, the detail also transported City Hall staffers who’d taken leaves of absence to work on his campaign. The cops told DOI they were unaware the staffers were on leave. At other times, members of the NYPD detail would fly out in advance of the mayor, “incurring additional travel costs,” the report noted.
Neither Garnett nor the NYPD would reveal the number of cops assigned to accompany the mayor and, on two occasions, his wife, Chirlane McCray, during de Blasio’s presidential jaunt. Sources told THE CITY around 10 cops would traditionally be assigned to the detail at any given time.
Mayor Says He Listened to Cops
It was also revealed Thursday that the city Conflicts of Interest Board had specifically warned the mayor in 2019 that his campaign would have to reimburse the city for the cost of the police detail while he was on the campaign trail.
The issue was clearly of concern to him in the days before he announced his run for the White House. On May 8, 2019, de Blasio secretly asked the COIB officials whether the city could foot the entire bill for his security “for the mayor on a political trip,” according to correspondence with COIB that City Hall released Thursday.
De Blasio announced his candidacy on May 16, 2019, and three days later COIB privately sent him a letter advising him that the campaign “must pay all the New York City Police Department detail costs except salaries/overtime,” the correspondence states.
As of Thursday, the mayor had yet to make that COIB advice letter public. The COIB response was mentioned in a separate letter de Blasio released Thursday in which he appeals the ethics watchdog’s 2019 determination.
That letter was addressed to COIB Chair Jeffrey Friedlander — a de Blasio appointee — and is dated July 22, a few weeks after DOI investigators informed the mayor they needed to interview him and McCray, to discuss his use of the security detail. The interviews took place a few days later.
COIB officials said they were prohibited from releasing their letter, and de Blasio’s press secretary, Danielle Filson, did not respond to THE CITY’s request for a copy. Diane Struzzi, a DOI spokesperson, said de Blasio refused DOI’s request to release the letter to investigators and the public.
Hours after DOI’s report was issued, de Blasio came out swinging at Garnett, whom he appointed in late 2018.
Filson called DOI’s findings “naive” and the mayor told reporters “take this report with a big grain of salt. A lot of the details are inaccurate. A lot of the suppositions are inaccurate.”
He insisted he was following police advice.
“The guidance I have received is from the NYPD. I’ve never received any contradictory guidance. I have followed all guidance to the letter,” he said.
And de Blasio made it clear he has no intention of reimbursing taxpayers. Instead, he’s relying on COIB to reverse its ruling and uphold his appeal. COIB officials declined to discuss the matter Thursday.
A Top Cop Accused
As of this week, de Blasio would have a tough time coming up with a $320,000 reimbursement: Records show he’s got about $4,800 “cash on hand” in his presidential campaign account and is running a $156,000 deficit from his 2017 mayoral run.
In his remarks to the press, de Blasio defended public payment for his campaign security, arguing past mayors did the same thing — including Rudy Giuliani when he ran for U.S. Senate, John Lindsay during his presidential bid and Ed Koch when he vied for governor.
In its report, DOI also questioned the use of the mayor’s NYPD detail to transport his son, Dante, to and from college in Connecticut, and for helping his daughter, Chiara, move from Brooklyn to Gracie Mansion.
Members of de Blasio’s police detail also told DOI that after some politicians’ homes were vandalized during the racial justice protests of last summer, they began regularly checking on two rental properties the mayor owns in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“The purpose of the [detail] is to provide personal protection to the mayor, not to protect his private property or business interests,” DOI noted.
The report also charged that the head of the mayor’s NYPD detail, Inspector Howard Redmond, “actively obstructed and sought to thwart” the DOI’s investigation.
DOI alleges he appeared to have deleted thousands of text messages from his City Hall-issued phone — and that after investigators had requested the phone, Redmond turned it in for an “upgrade” and handed over the new phone instead. By then, the old phone DOI had requested had been erased by NYPD’s tech staff, the report stated.
DOI submitted a formal recommendation to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to pursue criminal obstruction of justice charges against Redmond. On Thursday, de Blasio and John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counter-terrorism, declined to comment on the findings regarding Redmond.
“Well, you don’t just fire somebody,” Miller responded when asked whether Redmond would be terminated. Miller said the NYPD is performing an internal review of Redmond’s actions and would “cooperate” with any outside inquiry.
A spokesperson for Vance declined to comment.
It marked the second time DOI has found the mayor to have violated city ethics rules. As THE CITY revealed in April 2019, the agency determined de Blasio personally solicited donations for a non-profit he controlled from entities with active business before his administration.