Dubick, Michell, and the mayor’s former flack, Fred Sainz, told Kessler on several occasions not to share information with the city attorney’s office. The city attorney at the time was Mike Aguirre, who sided with Kessler in his attempts to restrain Li Mandri. And the mayor’s office hated Aguirre. But there was a political reason. Anderson told Kessler, “City Attorney Mike Aguirre might latch onto the [FBI/police] investigative report regarding Li Mandri as a campaign issue, which the mayor did not want to happen, since the election was two weeks away and City Attorney Aguirre’s office had authored opinions critical of Mr. Li Mandri’s contracting practices which often validated [Kessler’s] actions and ran counter to what became the mayor’s office’s position,” says Kessler in a response to an interrogatory.
Li Mandri was a political force in Little Italy and Sanders knew it, says Joshua Gruenberg, Kessler’s lawyer. That’s how Li Mandri kept getting contracts.
The new material shows that another person in this drama was none other than Nancy Graham, who resigned as head of Centre City Development Corporation in mid-2008. Her official explanation was that she had to care for an ailing mother. But that wasn’t the nub, or the rub. The Centre City board had chosen a company to do a big project at Seventh and Market. Graham had worked with the company while she was mayor of West Palm Beach and also as a private developer there. She claimed she was not involving herself in the Seventh and Market project, but it became clear that she was. Both Centre City and Aguirre investigated. She also faces charges that she did not reveal her relationship with another contractor.
Li Mandri in 2008 had attempted to wangle a $250,000 parking contract for the nonprofit Little Italy Association. The mayor’s office had concealed the deal from Kessler, who administered the community parking district program. (Community parking districts are managed by local nonprofits on behalf of the City to provide parking and transportation solutions. The funds are derived from 45 percent of parking meter revenue within the district.) Centre City managed the entire downtown community parking district for the City free of charge. Li Mandri proposed breaking off the portion in Little Italy and charging the City $20,000 a year that would go to his for-profit company, New City America. Michell had told Graham to back Li Mandri in the deal, according to Kessler’s interrogatories.
Li Mandri was steadily working on Graham. On March 27, 2008, he wrote the mayor’s policy advisor Phil Rath and Michell and boasted, “Nancy and I have a very good working relationship.” He also noted that he was getting support from Kevin Faulconer, councilperson for the district.
The same month, Li Mandri peppered Rath with emails, trying to get the mayor’s support for the parking district contract and wanting to be sure Kessler didn’t put the kibosh on the proposal. In mid-2008, Li Mandri sent a letter to Sanders thanking him for his and Faulconer’s support for the new Little Italy parking district. However, he was ordered to withdraw the proposal the week after Kessler gave the investigative report to the Ethics Commission, according to Gruenberg. (Li Mandri then managed to get a different juicy contract.) As a result of the entire Li Mandri flap, Anderson told Kessler that he had “really pissed off the 11th floor.”
Of course, throughout 2007 and 2008, Li Mandri was writing various members of the mayor’s staff, blasting Kessler. In 2007, he was successfully trying to get meetings with the mayor’s then–wizard of ooze Fred Sainz. According to Gruenberg, Sainz told Kessler that he was wrong about Li Mandri and that Kessler should focus on more problematic contractors.
Meanwhile, the FBI/police criminal report on Li Mandri and Mannino has gone nowhere with authorities. The city attorney’s office is trying to get Kessler’s suit dismissed. According to Gruenberg, the office is seeking the dismissal even though it has not deposed Kessler.
Dumanis’s office refuses comment on the question of whether it communicated with the mayor’s office in the decision not to prosecute Li Mandri and Mannino. The mayor’s public relations representative, given a list of eight City Hall officials about whom the Reader wanted information, did not return calls, as usual. The city attorney’s office, also told by voice mail specifically what the Reader requested, did not return calls. Police Chief Lansdowne declined to comment.