Councilman’s Aide Sues for Ridicule, Teddy Bears Beheaded

NEW YORK (AP) -
A decapitated stuffed bear at the offices of Councilman Vincent Gentile last year. (Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP via AP)
A decapitated stuffed bear at the offices of Councilman Vincent Gentile last year. (Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP via AP)

A former aide to a New York City councilman says the lawmaker and a senior member of his staff subjected him to cruel bullying that included decapitating the stuffed animals on his desk and locking him in a basement.

Michael Bistreich, who has Asperger syndrome, filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city and Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile on Tuesday.

In the disability discrimination suit, Bistreich said Gentile and his former chief of staff, John Mancuso, ridiculed him because of his disorder, which the group Autism Speaks says is “on the high-functioning end” of the autism spectrum.

On one occasion, someone decapitated the teddy bears and other stuffed animals Bistreich kept on his desk. One bear’s head was mounted on a small flagpole. A stuffed dog “was gutted and impaled and had red coloring around its slit stomach, mouth and eyes to resemble blood,” the lawsuit said. Bistreich said he was subsequently told that Mancuso was behind the beheadings.

The suit also claims Gentile laughed when a person on his staff compared Bistreich to Avonte Oquendo, a New York City boy with severe autism who was found dead after he left school through an unattended door. The staffer allegedly suggested Bistreich “test the doors.”

Among other allegations, the lawsuit said Mancuso once locked Bistreich in the building’s basement for an extended period when he went there to retrieve something.

Bistreich’s attorney, Brian Heller, said the harassment occurred throughout Bistreich’s two-year stint as Gentile’s legislative and budgetary director. But he said it became more severe this year when Bistreich began dealing more with the public. Gentile told Bistreich his twitching was “unnerving” and asked him to increase his medication, Heller said.

“They didn’t want him to be seen by anybody,” said Heller.

Bistreich, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. John’s University, said he quit his job in June after he was demoted and a recent pay raise was cut.

Gentile represents parts of Boro Park. Mancuso now works as a community relations official for the city’s sanitation department. The city Law Department said the complaint is under review.