FOIL Request Exposes Smoking Gun Found

How RIOC Played Loose with Truth to Help Manhattan Park Beat Tenants

Updated 2 weeks ago David Stone
Memo from RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal misstates facts and scrambles dates, shielding Manhattan Park - and itself - from responsibility.
Memo from RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal misstates facts and scrambles dates, shielding Manhattan Park - and itself - from responsibility.

Should we be concerned? Documents expose an outbreak of memory disorders at 591 Main Street that mislead State Senator Jose Serrano Jr when his office sought to help Manhattan Park tenants. Is it amnesia, short term memory loss or something worse — an affliction with symptoms resembling reliance on “alternative facts?” 

 

RIOC Whacks Away Trust

Roosevelt Island, Birthplace of Alternative Facts

You may think Assistant to the Liar-in-Chief Kellyanne Conway invented “alternative facts,”  last January, spontaneously on Meet the Press, but you’ll have to think again. 

The genuine, gold standard first outbreak might have occurred right here on Roosevelt Island, a month earlier.

Could Donald Trump’s counselor have pirated the idea from our own RIOC President and CEO Susan Rosenthal, adding nothing more than a name for it?

Both instances involved provable falsehoods, commonly known as “lies,” but records show that Rosenthal got there first.

And while Conway tossed out “alternative facts” as cover for then Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Rosenthal targeted a narrower band, misleading an important state official with false information about tenants’ efforts to challenge Manhattan Park’s submetering credibility and RIOC’s alleged failure of oversight.

Here’s what we learned when RIOC provided previously unseen documents after The Daily submitted a Freedom of Information request: 

On December 7th, 2016, Rosenthal seasoned a memo to State Senator José Serrano’s Community Liaison Eric Rivera with a stomach twisting tangle of… let’s, for now, call them “alternative facts.”

Peppered with falsehoods, Rosenthal’s memo seems designed to deliberately belittle our battle to get RIOC to enforce lease terms protecting tenants from submetering abuse, but it also brags, with all the allegiance to the facts as President Trump, about RIOC’s role in ferreting out the truth.

So, you might conclude that alternative facts can as easily serve a conservative, white male privilege agenda as they can whatever Andrew Cuomo claims to be brewing up these days.

 You can download the entire FOIL response from RIOC below.

“Please be advised that RIOC received Mr. Stone’s complaint in July of this year, by a copy of his correspondence with his landlord, Manhattan Park (MP),” is how Rosenthal dished falsehood #1 to Senator Serrano’s representative, Eric Rivera.

Back here in the fact based universe, the truth was something different.

Rosenthal did not get the news by way of “Mr. Stone’s complaint in July… by way of a copy of his correspondence with his landlord, Manhattan Park.”

Thereafter, she refer to the the real estate developer cutely as “MP.”

But look, she invented that falsehood for Senator Serrano’s consumption in December, ’tis the season and all that. Maybe she had one too many eggnogs.

The other likely possibility is that she scrambled together a fiction hoping to avoid exposing how much she did to help us and now seems to regret.

(Note: we represent a group of past and present Manhattan Park tenants, although Rosenthal and Manhattan Park both persistently narrow it down to a single complainant (me) and oversimplify the issues to the point of trivializing them.)

If I were in her shoes, I’d take the eggnog, but either way, when you reply to an important elected official, you probably oughta check your facts before spilling.

The facts…

In June, not July, and well before I contacted Manhattan Park, I emailed Rosenthal, asking who at RIOC was responsible for enforcing terms of the Manhattan Park ground lease.

Before being stricken with forgetfulness, she answered that it was “both our Legal and Fiscal Departments.”

When she asked for specific details, I answered, “I am confident that Manhattan Park has violated the terms of its ground lease for years in terms of charges for sub metering.”

Rosenthal set up a meeting for July 18th. It included Arthur Eliav, a member of RIOC’s legal team.

What’s Susan Rosenthal Trying to Hide?

Plenty, it seems.

Because no one gets inside anyone else’s head, I can’t give you her reasons, but what Rosenthal erases in her memo are two meeting where she was helpful and thoughtfully coached us on how to pursue our problems with Manhattan Park.

Briefly, because the details have been covered elsewhere, I brought evidence reenforcing concerns that Manhattan Park had repeatedly violated lease terms and that prior administrations at RIOC had let violations affecting tenants' rights pass without blinking.

Rosenthal was new to the State agency, not responsible for any of that, but Eliav, a RIOC veteran, promptly displayed the first symptoms of institutional memory loss.

He was surprised, he said, because RIOC had never gotten complaints about Manhattan Park in the past.

I was surprised because sub metering and Manhattan Park Property Managers’ gruff dismissal of any and all tenant complaints had stirred enough outrage that even the normally feeble Common Council had gotten involved. Only briefly, of course.

Eliav also claimed they had no record of an approved grievance procedure in RIOC’s files. 

That wasn’t true either.

Just a couple of years earlier, Manhattan Park resident and Common Council Member Mark Lyon tried to work with both RIOC and the Public Service Commission over concerns about sub metering abuse.

Lyon obtained, at the time, along with a trove of other documents, the actual grievance procedure agreed on in 1989.

Where did he get it?

From RIOC in a Freedom of Information Law request. 

Eliav was copied on the release, but like Jeff Sessions, he just couldn’t recall — or find any of those documents again.

If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

The logical positivists debate goes practical when you’re forced to ask, “If an approved grievance procedure is shoved in a drawer, never shared with tenants are allowed to be used, is it actually established?”

Of course, it isn’t. The opposite is true.

At our second meeting, Eliav conceded the existence of the grievance procedure, and Rosenthal spotted the issue immediately.

“The question is,” she said, “did they ever put it in play?”

Eliav winced a second time.

That was the last support she ever gave our group because never fully explained future developments got her singing a different tune. 

By the time Rosenthal got around to feeding an alternative reality to Senator Serrano in December, the whole story flipped out of sequence.

“The crux of Mr. Stone’s complaint is that MP is inaccurately measuring and, therefore, illegally profiting from electric submetering in the development.”

Not true, but convenient for belittling our case and promoting alternative facts that helped Manhattan Park beat tenants and sidelined Serrano.

Memory loss blossomed as Rosenthal forgot that the “crux” of our complaints was the grievance procedure, the disappearance of which enabled Manhattan Park’s practices to remain opaque, no matter how often tenants complained.

Infamous Dates to Remember

Keep in mind that I first met with Rosenthal and Eliav on July 18th, before ever engaging with Manhattan Park on the lease violations and you’re likely find this set of alternative facts from Rosenthal’s memo to Serrano… uhm, what’s the word I want…? Oh, yeah, got it. They’re lies.

“Mr. Stone wrote letters to MP on July 20, 2016, and August 8, 2016, and received responses to those letters from MP’s Property Manager and Director of Property Management on August 4, 2016 and August 15, 2016, respectively. 

“Mr. Stone then turned to RIOC…”

Records prove that Rosenthal’s imagined sequence is contrived, that two days after my first meeting with her and Eliav, I wrote my first letter about the lease to Michael Kim, Manhattan Park’s Property Manager. 

In it, I used wording Rosenthal suggested…

“Can you prove, in spite of the evidence, that such an approved grievance procedure exists and that it was approved by either the PSC or RIOC?”

Look, people make mistakes, and sometimes we forget the actual chain of events, but wouldn’t you, as a citizen who counts on our government to play straight, even when we’re not looking, expect an executive in Rosenthal’s position, an attorney yet, to have her facts reasonably straight?

And if not, why not?

We may have an answer from other documents given up in our FOIL request.

Lies Pile Up

“RIOC immediately began a review of its lease with MP and requested proof of compliance from MP…” Rosenthal tells Serrano’s rep. It’s a lie.

Lie might not even be a substantial enough word for what Rosenthal tried pulling off here.

A better question might be why didn’t RIOC do what Rosenthal claims? The answer is simple.

Rosenthal was working closely with us, giving us guidance and direction, a relationship that abruptly collapsed when Manhattan Park stopped by Rosenthal’s office for an “introduction.”

Manhattan Park turns to RIOC for help.
Manhattan Park turns to RIOC for help.

On August 16th, following our second meeting with Rosenthal and Eliav and after writing a second letter to Kim, Kim’s assistant Brian Weisberg reached out to Rosenthal to request a meeting.

Not only did Rosenthal lie when she wrote to Serrano, “RIOC immediately began a review of its lease with MP and requested proof of compliance from MP…” it was Manhattan Park that initiated contact.

“Glad to meet,” Rosenthal responded. “My asst will reach out to you. Is the topic sub-metering and the grievance procedure or something else?”

“Primarily an introduction,” Weisberg tells her.

My gag reflex was kicking in by now. I had to pause to let it pass, the lies piled up so high I was choking on them.

Forgetfulness Goes Into Overdrive 

Rosenthal goes on to issue the standard misdirection, reassuring Serrano that Manhattan Park gave her — and us — a copy of what she claims is a PSC approved grievance procedure “distributed to all MP tenants.”

What she doesn’t tell Serrano is that it was “distributed,” that is — dropped anonymously in front of doorways — in 2013, nearly a quarter of a century after Manhattan Park agreed to establish a grievance procedure.

Only the most serious forgetfulness could account for Rosenthal’s evading the actual “crux” of our complaint — that is, Manhattan Park was never able to supply a single trace of proof that they ever “established” a grievance procedure as required “prior to submetering.”

And Rosenthal compounded the abuse by refusing to recognize it, let alone do anything about it. 

A big win for Manhattan Park’s owners as RIOC kicks hope into the gutter, but you know what? It gets even worse.

We've given Rosenthal and RIOC evidence from multiple tenants, including incidents in the past year where Manhattan Park’s managers didn’t follow even the feeble grievance procedure dumped in doorways four years ago.

And in case you fear that this outbreak of disordered memory or amnesia might spread, consider Weisberg’s answer when Rosenthal asks how the annual notices are given to tenants:

“We deliver to the tenants via a door drop.”

Weisberg seems to have misremembered that Manhattan Park does no such thing. There has not been a “door drop” since 2103 and not one before it, but no problem for RIOC

A Possible Explanation

RIOC teams with Manhattan Park's owners for unknown reasons but with sadly predictable results.
RIOC teams with Manhattan Park's owners for unknown reasons but with sadly predictable results.

When we read, “We have also corresponded with MP’s principals and legal counsel,” we soon sent our FOIL request. It was news to us. 

To defeat our small band of tenants, RIOC had to go to the top of the food chain at Grenadier, the real estate company that owns Manhattan Park?

Why?

All they ever had to do to prove us wrong was demonstrate that they’d established a grievance procedure, something they were unable to do.

For reasons unknown to the world outside RIOC's vault, the State, after the Manhattan Park "introduction," decided to look the other way at twenty-five years in which tenant rights were denied.

There's always a reason. We don't know what it is, but it's not so big a stretch to draw conclusions from what happened.

We were also intrigued because we’d asked Kim and Weisberg to tell us who their managers were so we could appeal their behavior but were stonewalled.

Guess what? 

We got stonewalled by RIOC too.

When we asked RIOC in our FOIL to identify the principals and counsel from Grenadier and provide copies of their correspondence, our ever reliable State representatives ignored the request. When I pointed that out to RIOC council Lada V. Stasko, I got the usual resident-unfriendly pushback. 

Who and what are they hiding?

A rule of thumb for me is that people with nothing to hide don’t hide anything. It’s not complicated.

Why would Manhattan Park need to shield identities from tenants? And why would RIOC play along and help them?

Conclusion

Although they're not completely off the hook, it’s possible that the failure of both State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and Senator Serrano to do enough to help constituents was conditioned on misinformation from Rosenthal and the RIOC team.

Credit where it’s due, Katarina Matic from Seawright’s office stayed in touch but eventually backed off. Serrano’s office never followed up with us after getting Rosenthal’s memo.

It's likely that Serrano accepted Rosenthal’s storyline, buying her suggestion that the whole dispute was caused by a single cranky tenant - me - who thought he was being charged too much and refused reasonable explanations. 

But those excuses are no longer valid, now that Rosenthal’s smoking gun — “guns” would be more like it — have been exposed.

Will our elected officials act now or will we be forced to bring in legal counsel to accomplish what Governor Cuomo’s charges refuse to?

RIOC has an absolute obligation to support tenants by enforcing clauses in their own lease put there to protect us.

If not, why not? Is RIOC, as they sometimes imply, a law unto themselves, not accountable to anyone?

And how can we be expected to trust our local government any more than we trust Trump's on a national scale when similar tactics are used to stiff the little guy while protecting well-heeled and probably politically connected real estate owners?

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