The NYC helipad contract is being called into question over allegations of a conflict of interest, and Mayor Adams’ administration is being urged to investigate

Adam Trenk, the CEO of Thoroughbred Sea & Air, has requested an investigation into the awarding of a helipad contract by the city’s economic development agency to their competitor, Saker Aviation. Trenk sent a letter to Kevin Kim, the commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services under Mayor Adams’ administration, highlighting concerns about Saker’s unfair advantage in winning the contract, which both companies had bid on.

The Daily News had previously reported that Saker’s winning bid for operating the Pier 6 helipad in Manhattan has raised conflict of interest concerns, as Saker’s chairman, William Wachtel, is a law partner of Morris Missry, a member of the EDC board responsible for issuing the contract.

As per Trenk, Thoroughbred Sea & Air submitted their bid for operating the helipad on September 20, 2022. Their bid proposed a baseline fee rate of 34% of the gross revenue that they would earn. Later, in November, they submitted a revised bid with a slightly higher baseline fee rate of 34.7%, as reported by The News.

Saker Aviation, the current operator of the helipad since 2008, submitted a final offer with a proposed baseline fee rate of 36%, which is 1.3% higher than Thoroughbred’s proposed rate, as confirmed by an award notice from the EDC. It’s not clear what baseline rate Saker had proposed in any of their earlier versions of the bid.

Trenk claimed in his letter it’s “impossible to imagine” Saker would’ve boosted its offer in such a way “without some inside information, given that for nearly 15 years Saker had not been paying more than 20% of gross revenues,” a reference to fees the firm paid on past contracts.

“Saker’s close connection to an EDC board member, when coupled with the pricing in Saker’s proposed contract for the heliport, warrants investigation and careful review,” Trenk wrote in the letter. “[Thoroughbred] is concerned, among other things, whether [Thoroughbred’s] competitive information was shared with Saker during the procurement process.”

Trenk has made a complaint but declined to comment further, urging the Department of Small Business Services to investigate his claims.

Due to the need to avoid any party gaining an unfair advantage, details of bids for city contracts are kept confidential. However, the EDC was informed of Trenk’s complaint and has stated that it will conduct a review, in accordance with procurement process protocol.

Jeff Holmes, a spokesman for the EDC, has strongly denied Trenk’s allegations.

“It is disappointing that the Daily News is once again carrying water for a disgruntled company that failed to win a city contract and spreading baseless allegations about a rigorous selection process,” Holmes said. “We absolutely reject the false claim that confidential information from one submission was shared with another bidder.”

Sam Goldstein, the CEO of Saker, declined to comment on the matter. Meanwhile, William Wachtel informed The News last week that Morris Missry had no involvement in the Saker contract whatsoever.

According to EDC’s ethics bylaws, board members must withdraw from any matter where their personal or financial interests conflict or may conflict with the interests of the Corporation. Additionally, they are required to disclose such conflicts on their annual disclosure forms.

However, last week, EDC confirmed that Morris Missry did not recuse himself from the Saker matter, despite his connection to William Wachtel.

However, an EDC rep said at the time that “there was nothing to recuse” since the helipad contract never went before the board, which “as a matter of course” does not involve itself directly in the corporation’s “individual procurements.”

“[The EDC] board is not involved in any way with this RFP selection, and the continued accusations of a conflict of interest have no basis in fact,“ Holmes said Thursday, using an acronym for “Request for Proposal.”

According to EDC records, the new contract for the helipad could bring in tens of millions of dollars for Saker, which primarily serves helicopter companies that cater to affluent tourists and business executives in the area.

While the EDC intends to allow Saker to continue operating the helipad, the decision must be approved by a joint hearing between the corporation and Adams’ Office of Contract Services on March 3.

Trenk has suggested that the hearing should be postponed until an investigation has been carried out.