50-person bribery case sweeps in NY inspectors, landlords
Feb. 11, 2015
NEW YORK (AP) — City inspectors, landlords and contractors formed a 50-person network of graft that exchanged $450,000 in payoffs to get safety violations dismissed, procure phony eviction orders and get fast, favorable and sometimes nonexistent inspections, authorities said Tuesday.
Because of the schemes, a Brooklyn synagogue started building an addition with a cracked wall supported by twisted steel beams, tenants were improperly threatened with eviction so their landlords could raise rents and property owners weren't immediately made to fix problems ranging from a defective hallway ceiling to missing smoke detectors, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and city Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said.
One property owner got slapped with a bogus stop-work order that his contractor arranged to squeeze the owner for further work, they said. And when a worker fell 10 feet from a beam at another site, an inspector who should have reported it instead advised that contractor not to call an ambulance or "it's gonna be a big, big deal," court documents said.
"The actions disadvantaged and harmed tenants in all these buildings and public confidence" in the agencies supposed to oversee them, Vance said.
Some 150 properties have been re-inspected because of the case, and violations were corrected or construction was stopped, Peters said. No one was evicted due to the bogus orders to vacate in the name of safety, authorities said.
The defendants include 10 Department of Buildings workers, five Department of Housing Preservation & Development employees and one worker at the city Department of Small Business Services. Among them are the buildings department's chief for Manhattan development, Donald O'Connor; Janelle Daly, a buildings department filing representative and the wife of another borough chief who isn't named in the indictment; and several mid-level supervisors in the buildings and housing departments.
O'Connor's lawyer, Scott Fenstermaker, declined to comment Tuesday night. Attorney information for Daly and some other defendants wasn't immediately available. Attorneys for some of the other inspectors declined to comment on the charges.
The sweeping bribery charges come little over a year into Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration, though the investigation began before his tenure. The agencies noted that they flagged the problems and brought them to authorities, and they said several accused workers have resigned or been suspended.
"I'm outraged at what this investigation has uncovered," Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said in a statement.
Daly and her husband got about $200,000 or more in payoffs — including home mortgage payments, an SUV and an $8,000 cruise — just from one expeditor, or middleman, who helps shepherd matters through the department, according to court documents. O'Connor solicited and got $3,000 from a bar owner for a summer course for O'Connor's daughter, among other plums, court documents said.
A former buildings department inspector got $70,000 in payoffs, and a housing inspector was recorded frankly discussing his price to wipe violations out of the agency's system: usually $3,500 per building, but he offered one property manager a bargain $1,500, according to court documents.
The case follows several prosecutions surrounding construction industry practices and oversight amid a building boom in the city in recent years.
In 2010, a city construction crane inspector pleaded guilty to taking bribes — and a crane company to paying them — to fake safety inspections and licensing exam certifications. Another crane inspector was convicted in 2012 of falsely claiming he'd checked cranes when he hadn't.
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz