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Feds Charged With Taking Bribes

October 7, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ For years, when private contractors and federal project managers ``did coffee″ in a Brooklyn courthouse, sugar and cream were never an issue.

Authorities say the contractors knew the managers took their coffee just one way: with cash. Piles of it.

Six longtime employees of the U.S. General Services Administration and nine contractors were charged Wednesday in a kickback scheme involving millions of dollars in projects.

Criminal complaints say the deals, dating back to 1993, often were completed at federal buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Contractors paid bribes ranging from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 to secure steady work, prosecutors said. One GSA employee was caught on tape last year demanding tickets to Puerto Rico and a $500, five-day pass to Disney World, authorities said.

``Who knows what accounts for their brazenness? It may be as simple as greed,″ said U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter.

The GSA workers _ whose government salaries averaged $55,000 a year _ and the contractors awaited arraignment Wednesday and Thursday in Brooklyn federal court. Each faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on a top charge of bribery.

On sale were routine jobs like renovations and maintenance of courtrooms, bathrooms and offices in the U.S. District courthouse in downtown Brooklyn, an Internal Revenue Service building in the Bronx and the Manhattan home of the State Department and Veterans Administration. Some of the contractors, which included a locksmith, a carpet installer and a sign maker, recovered their losses from bribes by over-billing the government, prosecutors said.

The scheme began to unravel two years ago when a contractor notified authorities that an employee had been shaken down by the one of the GSA suspects. After that, confidential informants agreed to wear hidden recording devices during several meetings in which the suspects solicited bribes, prosecutors said.

Many times the GSA employees allegedly used code language, calling the contractors and asking, ``Want to do coffee?″ That meant it was time to pay up, prosecutors said.

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