City investigations chief misled Council in sworn testimony: probe

A probe of Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters found that he had misled City Council in sworn testimony about his failed bid to seize control of an office that independently investigates the public schools.

Four senior DOI officials similarly gave “inaccurate” testimony to investigators during the probe, which was concluded on Oct. 10 but made public only late Wednesday by DOI.

The heavily-redacted 151-page report shows that independent investigator James McGovern found Peters’ testimony at a City Council hearing on March 26 to be “materially misleading” at times, and on one occasion “not even technically true.”

Peters told City Council members that the office he had attempted to overtake, known as the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation, “had always reported to DOI.”

In fact, SCI has been established in 1990 with a clear intent that it be independent of DOI, which was how it functioned until the longtime commissioner of SCI retired in late 2017.

Peters also inaccurately claimed no one from the Department of Education had raised concerns about his actions. But the DOE had repeatedly declined to sign a memo produced by DOI earlier this year approving the takeover.

Peters came under scrutiny in April after he fired SCI Commissioner Anastasia Coleman less than two months after hiring her, after she repeatedly objected to his attempted bid to control her office.

A whisteblower complaint by Coleman and her deputy sparked the probe by McGovern, which confirmed their contention that Peters had abused his authority.

It called for Coleman and deputy SCI Commissioner Daniel Schlachet to be restored to their former positions with back pay.

McGovern, a former federal prosecutor, found that four senior DOI officials had also provided “inaccurate and inconsistent” testimony to investigators in saying that Coleman had been insubordinate at a meeting.

The claims were contradicted only because Coleman had recordings of those conversations, which showed her tone had been “measured” and “moderate.”

McGovern saved his harshest criticism of Peters for a claim he made to Coleman on February 27.

Coleman had cited the 1990 mayoral executive order establishing SCI as independent from DOI in questioning Peters over the power grab.

“I could, if I had to, go to City Hall and have them just wipe out that executive order,” Peters responded to her, according to the report. “I probably should have, but it wasn’t worth my time, effort and energy.”

McGovern objected both to the falseness of the claim — in light of the fact that Peters clearly couldn’t nix an executive order because of his strained relationship with Mayor de Blasio — and to its menacing tone.

“The Commissioner of Investigation’s position of authority and public trust is such that he or she should not be so cavalier with the truth. Nor should the Commissioner of Investigation attempt to convey the sense that he or she is above the law,” McGovern wrote. “That is particularly so when a false and menacing statement is obviously intended – as it was here – to cow a subordinate into submission.”

Through his office, Peters issued a stronger mea culpa than he had last week, when only summaries of the findings were publicly released.

“Readers of this report may be concerned by many of the findings in it. Statements suggesting that I and my senior staff have a lack of respect for and an indifference to the law are particularly disturbing to me… In fact, I take the law seriously and know my senior staff do,” he said. “Bluntly, I regret the way I handled this.”

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