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Queens Chronicle

City admits illegal Willets Pt. lobbying

After investigation by attorney general

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Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:04 am, Thu Jul 12, 2012.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a slap on the wrist Tuesday to the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corp. and the city’s Economic Development Corp. for illegally lobbying for the Willets Point project.

Schneiderman said the two groups “flouted the law by lobbying elected officials, both directly and through third parties, to win approval of their projects.”

The City Council approved the Willets Point redevelopment project in 2008, although developers were only named recently for Phase 1 work. The latest proposal calls for adding stores, parking and a hotel along 126th Street, across from Citi Field, and eventually adding a shopping center and parking at Citi Field and housing and another hotel in Willets Point.

In the settlement, both groups admitted guilt and agreed to a ban on lobbying the City Council on development projects and from employing lobbyists or consultants to lobby. The EDC also promised public disclosure of any funding provided to other LDCs or personnel who overlap with other LDCs.

The EDC and FWPC LDC “took steps to create the appearance of independent grassroots support for the project by concealing their participation in community-organizing efforts,” Schneiderman said.

Their methods included ghost-writing letters and op-eds and preparing testimony for community members. In one case, the EDC instructed the LDC to use its fax machine to send a letter it prepared to the City Council.

Schneiderman’s three-year investigation and settlement “ensures that these illegal practices do not reoccur and increases transparency regarding EDC’s relationships with other LDCS,” he indicated in a press release.

Michael Rikon, a lawyer for Willets Point United, a group of business and landowners who do not want to move, said the illegal lobbying was one of the points he made in his brief which challenged the city’s adopted “Determination and Findings,” that authorized the Willets Point eminent domain.

“It now becomes more understandable why the city withdrew its condemnation three days before argument in the Appellate Division, Second Department,” Rikon said.

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