Crains New York Business shook the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) with that headline article on Tuesday morning. While the article broke no new ground, it clearly laid out charges against the state agency in three current lawsuits.
Although Crains failed to note our breaking of this story, back in February, we are grateful for the muscle they have brought to the battle for exposing the bundle of incompetence and accountability known as RIOC.
by David Stone
Leaders of the state body that controls Roosevelt Island steered public money toward a personal friend, concealed details about a drowning death, then fired three employees who raised objections, the ex-employees allege.Crains New York Business
The three employees are Erica Spencer-EL, Amy Smith and Jessica Cerone, all members of a Communications Team dismantled by RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes. The published article rehashes claims in their lawsuit on which we previously reported.
Similarly, they note a lawsuit also filed in federal court by fired staff counsel Arthur Eliav. And they reference a lawsuit filed against RIOC by the estate of a young man who died in the Sportspark pool.
Behind the Crains Report
“Through an attorney, Haynes and RIOC declined to be interviewed. Their attorney, Howard Miller, said in a statement that the allegations made against the corporation are ‘completely false and fabricated.’
“The lawsuit itself is a means of exacting a settlement over the severance pay offered to the plaintiffs,” Miller said in a statement.
Anyone who has followed RIOC operations under Haynes knows that what Spencer-EL, Smith and Cernone allege is far from “completely false and fabricated.” In fact, multiple investigations grew out of the shenanigans they reported. That includes more than one by the state Inspector General.
More Retaliation and Intimidation?
“RIOC has made a conscious decision not to take the easy way out and pay off the plaintiffs to simply make this matter go away. To the contrary, RIOC has been defamed by the plaintiffs,” Miller, the RIOC attorney, said in an emailed statement.
“Because of the gravity of the false statements, which have hurt the entire Roosevelt Island community, RIOC is taking the unusual step of bringing its own suit against the plaintiffs to vindicate its own rights and clear the good name of Roosevelt Island from what amounts to a petty money-grab. The community deserves having any taint caused by the plaintiffs removed.”
But a person familiar with all parties said:
“How crazy is that in America, in 2023, a government entity is affirmatively suing whistleblowers for defamation? Does anybody still believe in the first amendment? Is it totally OK for a public benefit corporation to use the government’s money to shut up its former employees by bringing lawsuits against them because they don’t have the same resources as the government?”
The Last Word
State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright added this observation in the article:
“Constituents consistently report that the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) has been unresponsive in the day-to-day operations of the agency,” Seawright said. “I will continue fighting to ensure RIOC is held accountable and that the people of Roosevelt Island receive the services and attention they most assuredly deserve.”
Seawright earlier made a referral to the Inspector General based on extensive whistleblower reports.
Doubtless, there will be more to this story.