Inspectors Convicted of Racketeering and Extortion
NEW YORK (AP) _ Six former city Health Department employees and three private consultants were convicted today of demanding payoffs from restaurant owners to overlook health code inspections.
The federal jury in Brooklyn deliberated over nine days following six weeks of testimony, which included descriptions of roach- and rodent-infeste d restaurants that were allowed to stay open in return for payoffs to inspectors.
Each defendant was convicted of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and numerous counts of extortion. They face up to 20 years in prison on each racketeering count at sentencing later this year.
The defendants, who were among 46 people arrested in the scheme, represented ″a small slice″ of the widespread, systemic corruption uncovered at the city Department of Health, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean O’Shea.
″They didn’t care about rats or mice in restaurants or about people getting poisoned or filthy restaurants. They cared about money,″ O’Shea told the jury.
More than 40 restaurant owners or managers testified at the trial. Victims of the extortion, authorities said, ranged from delicatessens and fast-food restaurants to expensive Manhattan eateries.
Thirty-seven of the defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy before the start of the trial Nov. 14, and about a dozen of them testified for the prosecution.
The inspectors kicked back a portion of the money to their supervisors and used hand signals and special code words in asking for payoffs, O’Shea said.
The consultants, who were hired by restaurants to prepare for inspections, were accused as acting as middlemen who passed payoffs from restaurants to inspectors.
Among those on trial was Lawrence DeWindt, a former senior inspector who was accused of taking payments of $400 to $450 to keep a restaurant’s name off of a list of restaurants with violations published in the local newspapers.
The case was the result of a two-year undercover investigation by the city Department of Investigation and the FBI.