Several NYC Building Officials Charged with Bribery
Originally published by: New York Times — February 10, 2015
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More than a dozen New York City buildings inspectors and clerks have been charged with exploiting their positions as gateways to the city’s booming real estate industry to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, law enforcement officials announced on Tuesday.
In return for bribes of home mortgage payments, sport utility vehicles and a luxury cruise, among other payments, city buildings inspectors cleared complaints and stop-work orders, expedited inspections and tried to remove tenants under false pretenses, according to records filed on Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
The corruption charges, in an industry where inspectors are tempted by kickbacks with some regularity, opened a window onto the way people with stakes in a growing real estate market sought illegal financial gain. The charges were made after an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the city’s Department of Investigation that lasted nearly two years.
“Today’s cases, unfortunately, are harbingers of other potential casualties of the current housing boom — tenant safety and government integrity,” Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said on Tuesday.
The commissioner of the Investigation Department, Mark G. Peters, called the exposed practices a threat to New Yorkers’ safety and their access to affordable housing.
“This investigation is stunning for the sheer breadth of those charged,” he said, including owners who tried to flip apartments for higher rents.
In addition to the 16 city employees accused in bribery schemes — 11 of them from the Department of Buildings and five from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development — prosecutors charged 31 property managers and owners and construction industry workers with making payments to bypass proper inspection channels.
In one case, beginning in September 2011, David Weiszer, an unregistered expediter, sent a list of buildings owned by his clients on an almost daily basis to Gordon Holder, then chief of development for Brooklyn construction, prosecutors said. Mr. Holder, who resigned from the department last year, expedited inspections and ensured that they would be favorable, they said.
In return, Mr. Weiszer paid him around $200,000 in bribes, prosecutors said, and even moved into a house across the street from Mr. Holder in Pennsylvania and drove him four hours to and from work every day.
Mr. Weiszer is the only defendant in the bribery schemes who had not been arrested as of Tuesday afternoon. The authorities were searching for him in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
Playing out across Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, the schemes involved synagogues, residential properties and landmark bars, including Jack Demsey’s Bar and Grill and McHale’s Pub. Those two bars, in Manhattan, are owned by Frank Dwyer, who is accused of paying for a summer course for the daughter of Donald O’Connor, the chief of development for Manhattan construction. In exchange, prosecutors said, Mr. O’Connor removed violations and helped Mr. Dwyer secure last-minute appointments.
In another case, Mr. O’Connor is charged with helping a contractor hide from city oversight after a worker fell from an elevated steel beam on a job site. Mr. O’Connor advised the contractor not to call an ambulance, even though the worker could not move, because that could invite questions about safety on the site, the authorities say.
In that case and others, investigators used court-authorized wiretaps to document the bribes. Violations erased by inspectors included missing smoke detectors, blocking a fire escape and the presence of mice and roaches.
Two inspectors who were taking bribes ordered tenants to leave buildings in Bushwick, Brooklyn, claiming to be acting on the city’s authority, prosecutors said. City investigators said they had stepped in before any tenants were illegally forced out.
Three people with ties to organized crime were also charged in a check-bundling scheme uncovered by the investigation.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which helped spur part of the bribery investigation after discovering discrepancies in an internal audit, said all five employees involved had been suspended.
The Buildings Department said that three employees had resigned in connection with the case, and that the department had re-inspected every property “possibly touched by this fraud.” The department has also hired a compliance officer.