The FBI are investigating ties between Mayor de Blasio and funding given to an anti-Central Park horse carriage group at a key moment before last year’s mayoral election, the New York Daily News has revealed.
The Central Park horse carriage industry is heavily Irish and supporters claim up to 300 Irish families will be affected if the horses are forced out of the park.
Hollywood legend Liam Neeson is amongst the high profile supporters of the horse carriage business owners and workers as they fight for their future.
But it is the support offered by the de Blasio camp to the anti-Quinn campaign that has now attracted the interest of the FBI.
According to the News, FBI agents have questioned people about the pledge de Blasio made in March 2013.
They are also investigating the ads launched the next month by animal rights activists attacking Christine Quinn, the Daily News has learned.
Agents are interested in a $175,000 contribution to the animal rights group NYCLASS from a union tied to de Blasio’s cousin, labor leader John Wilhelm.
The News says the FBI’s probe of last year’s mayoral race has expanded to Mayor de Blasio’s campaign pledge to ban carriage.
Two sources familiar with the investigation have told the News that FBI agents have already questioned people about the pledge and the ad blitz attacking de Blasio’s chief rival, Christine Quinn.
The FBI agents are also investigating a $175,000 contribution by a union, tied to de Blasio’s cousin Wilhelm, to the animal rights group NYCLASS.
The paper says NYCLASS helped to bankroll the ‘Anybody But Quinn’ campaign which attacked Quinn’s mayoral candidacy.
The FBI have questioned at least five people in the past month as part of the investigation.
The News says the FBI is also looking at a threat by NYCLASS’ political consultant Scott Levenson early last year to undermine Quinn’s campaign if she didn’t back the carriage horse ban.
De Blasio said Friday that he was unaware of any investigation and added that nobody in his campaign had been questioned.
He said: “Literally, I’ve told you all I know. I’m not familiar with the allegations so I can’t comment.”
A spokeswoman for Levenson said that he had not been questioned by the FBI, either. He said that he was ‘proud’ of his consulting firm’s role in the mayoral race which included directing the Anybody But Quinn attacks.
De Blasio announced in March 2013 at a candidates’ forum that he would eliminate horse-drawn carriages during his first week as mayor with the backing of NYCLASS and other animal rights activists.
A spokeswoman for Levenson said: “Our advocacy for the issues and clients we fight for is no different than advocacy work that takes place in our democracy every day.
“Even if you are not happy with the results, our campaign cannot be characterized as anything more than that, and the fact that it was effective.”
Quinn refused to support the proposed carriage ban. In April last year NYCLASS founder Steve Nislick, and board member Wendy Neu, gave $200,000 each to New York City is Not for Sale, the political action committee formed by Levenson to carry out the Anybody But Quinn campaign.
In May and June, NYCLASS chipped a total of $225,000 to the anti-Quinn effort, records show.
In June, two of de Blasio’s top financial supporters gave $225,000 to NYCLASS, records show.
The News says one of those supporters was de Blasio’s cousin, Wilhelm, who was then head of the union group UNITE HERE!, which wrote a check for $175,000 to NYCLASS - the biggest contribution NYCLASS had ever received. The other was Jay Eisenhoffer, an attorney.
The report adds that Wilhelm and Eisenhoffer also acted as ‘intermediaries’ for de Blasio’s mayoral campaign, collecting $165,000 in contributions for him.
De Blasio has claimed that neither he nor his campaign coordinated with NYCLASS or New York City is Not for Sale in attacking Quinn. Any such coordination could be a violation of campaign laws.
Quinn was cruising in first place in the mayoral race when the campaign against her began but by late June, she had fallen to third in the Democratic primary which de Blasio won in September.