A Manhattan judge tossed a $5 million lawsuit against Mayor Bill de Blasio brought by a former top city official who said he was illegally fired for blowing the whistle on alleged corruption.
Ricardo Morales sued the city and his direct boss Lisette Camilo claiming he was axed as the deputy commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Service in 2017 for reporting improper government conduct in connection to lease negotiations for a restaurant and the sale of Lower East Side nursing home Rivington House.
US District Judge John Koeltl wrote in a 40-page decision released Monday that Morales had failed to prove he was terminated as retaliation for raising corruption concerns.
The judge also ruled that Morales’ cooperation with probes into the alleged misconduct did not qualify as speech protected by the First Amendment as it was part of his job duty “as a manager within a division under investigation.”
Camilo had allegedly fired Morales due to “performance issues” and discussed her intention to do so before he spoke out, the decision states.
“We have always said Morales was terminated lawfully, and the Court’s decision clearly vindicated our decision,” said city Law Department senior counsel Donna Canfield.
Morales had accused the mayor’s office of allegedly granting city favors to crooked donor Harendra Singh and of trying to arrange false testimony to cover up the controversial lifting of deed restrictions for Rivington House. The ex-official was involved in both deals.
After cooperating with federal and local probes into the two scandals by giving “truthful testimony,” he said he was fired and escorted from the office “like a common criminal.”
Singh operated a now-shuttered restaurant, Water’s Edge, on municipal land in Queens. He later admitted bribing the mayor with contributions to lock down a favorable lease — as part of a plea agreement in an unrelated federal case that involved paying off a Nassau County official. De Blasio has vehemently denied Singh’s bribery claims.
The Rivington House deal allowed the nursing home to be sold for conversion to luxury condos at a $72 million profit.
Morales’ lawyer Robert Kraus didn’t immediately return a request for comment.