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Grand Juries Investigating De Blasio's Fundraising Practices

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio brought a news conference to an abrupt end Friday, after he refused to answer questions about reports that two separate grand juries are looking into his fundraising practices.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's probe is looking into whether de Blasio and his aides doled out favors to donors to his 2013 election campaign. The state investigation, led by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, focuses on whether the de Blasio Administration illegally funneled big bucks campaign contributions to upstate campaign committees in an unsuccessful bid to regain Democratic control of the state senate in 2014, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

He also raised campaign cash to push programs that were part of his agenda, such as universal pre-kindergarten.

The investigations reportedly center on the mayor and some of his top aides, including Emma Wolfe and fundraiser Ross Offinger. They seek to determine if donors got favors in exchange for cash.

A city lease for the Water's Edge Restaurant in Queens is reportedly being looked at, with questions being raised about whether the owner, Harendra Singh, got favorable treatment after he and his family donated more than $54,000 to de Blasio.

Singh was reportedly a key witness in the indictment of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Real estate investor Jona Rechnitz is another potential witness against City Hall.

De Blasio has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and told reporters this week that he has not been asked to testify.

In an interview with WNYC on Friday, de Blasio maintained he and his administration acted appropriately, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.

"I've said very very consistently, and the facts keep proving this to be the case," de Blasio said. "One -- we did things the right way and by the law. Two -- we sought legal guidance throughout."

When asked on WNYC about a report that one of his fundraisers tried to solicit donations exceeding typical amounts from lobbyists representing clients with businesses before the city, de Blasio claimed the incident was "mischaracterized," 1010 WINS Sonia Rincon reported.

To speculation that it will become known within weeks whether one of the grand juries will indict him or one of his aides, de Blasio said he doesn't expect timelines.

"That's up the folks doing the investigations," de Blasio said. "What we've said very clearly we've cooperated from moment one. We've offered any and all information they needed and and all the cooperation in the world."

But when CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer asked de Blasio about the grand juries at a news conference later Friday, he declined to comment.

De Blasio was all smiles and all too willing to answer questions about a new initiative to provide internet service to people in public housing Friday. But when Kramer tried to ask him about the corruption probes, he shut it down and walked out.

Kramer: "Mr. Mayor, what are your thoughts about two grand juries that are hearing corruption charges involving you?"

De Blasio: "We're doing this topic right now, Marcia."

Kramer: "…and your administration. You're not going to talk about it?"

De Blasio: "No, I'm not today."

Kramer: "Why?"

De Blasio: "I'll talk to you next week."

There were two more failed attempts at the news conference to get the mayor to talk about the criminal probes of his fundraising practices.

"You guys can ask all you want, but that's for another setting," de Blasio said.

Afterward, de Blasio left the room. He did not run – he walked – but Kramer said the effect was the same in that he refused to discuss the grand juries.

The mayor's decision to clam up was all the more surprising since he had offered a spirited defense on WNYC a short time earlier, Kramer reported.

But at the news conference, he said: "We're talking about, as I said, this announcement and HUD -- anyone else wants to ask. Otherwise, we'll be done."

Kramer noted that former mayors Michael Bloomberg, Rudolph Giuliani and David Dinkins each took on-camera questions three to four times a week, and former Mayor Ed Koch sometimes had three to four news conferences a day. De Blasio usually takes questions just once a week.

On Thursday, de Blasio was fined nearly $48,000 for violating spending rules during his 2013 campaign for mayor.

The violations involved a host of things, including money he spent on his wife, Chirlane McCray, and his kids, Dante and Chiara. The violations also involved money the board said was improperly given after the election to the public relations firm that hired his campaign manager, and which had already received $380,000 from the campaign.

De Blasio, who got $6 of taxpayer money for every $1 he raised, was accused of improperly spending $161,000 after the election as over, including $116,000 that went to Hilltop Strategies – the firm that hired campaign manager Bill Hyers. Hyers is one of the so-called "agents of the city" whose emails de Blasio is fighting to keep private.

The city Campaign Finance Board also questioned why the mayor did not explain how a number of high-profile intermediaries raised campaign cash. Some of them have ties to the ongoing city corruption probe.

Among the intermediaries whose fundraising was not properly documented was Rechnitz, a real estate investor at the center of the corruption probes involving City Hall.

Rechnitz has a cooperation agreement and has pleaded guilty in two cases – one involving gifts to high-ranking police officers in exchange for favors.

Also on the long intermediaries list are two people involved with NYCLASS, which lobbied the mayor to ban horse carriages.

Among other public officials fined on Thursday was former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who lost the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary to de Blasio. Her penalties totaled nearly $14,000.

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