Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Nearly 50 NYC building inspectors and construction contractors busted for bribery scheme

It all started with a tip about an inspector on the take and spread like a cancer across the boroughs to reveal an unseemly culture of corruption in the city’s oversight of construction.

On Tuesday, a two-year city Department of Investigation probe came to an end with bribery charges filed against 50 defendants, including 16 city inspectors, plus a host of property managers and owners, “expediters,” contractors and an engineer.

All told, 156 buildings — across Brooklyn, in Harlem and Midtown and all the way to Flushing, Queens — were involved, with $450,000 in bribes paid and 49 of 50 defendants in custody.

The 26 indictments filed by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. lay out a stunning portrait of greed in which developers bought off inspectors to overlook code violations and speed their developments to completion.

DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said the investigation was “stunning for the sheer breadth of those charged and the extent to which the corruption infested our city institutions.” Peters said dozens of overlooked violations were “potentially endangering the safety of New Yorkers,” and noted that the city had to go back and check all the tainted buildings to make sure they’re safe.

Vance said the arrests make clear this type of corruption always seems to increase as the housing market heats up. “Today’s cases demonstrate that the same surging demand that drives the pace of development can inspire the taking of shortcuts — and the taking of bribes,” he said.

The Buildings Department approves all new construction and major renovation work in the city, and inspectors have enormous sway over the pace of a project. A rejection can bring a development to a halt, which in turn costs builders big bucks.

To get around this potential problem, both parties came to a special give-to-get arrangement that ensured smooth construction with no speed bumps, prosecutors say.

The worst offender appeared to be Gordon Holder, chief of development for the Buildings Department’s Brooklyn office, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Holder, who resigned in November, wasn’t identified but was secretly charged and is apparently cooperating, sources told The News.

Investigators say Holder and his wife, Janelle Daly, who was also arrested, had a longstanding corrupt arrangement with David Weiszer, 65, an “expediter” hired by Brooklyn developers.

Weiszer allegedly made $200,000 in mortgage payments for Holder, bought the couple a Nissan Rogue SUV and a GMC Terrain SUV, sent them on an $8,000 Royal Caribbean cruise, and funded renovations to their three-bedroom red-brick suburban home in Allentown, Pa.

Weiszer, who is now on the lam, eventually moved across the street from Holder’s home and drove him to work in the city most days, a four-hour round-trip commute.

In exchange, Holder allegedly used his position as a top supervisor and worked with a corrupt Buildings Department inspector, Artan Mujko, to ensure Weiszer’s developer customers got what they wanted from the department.

Last fall, for example, a developer decided to add two stories to a synagogue building in Borough Park, Brooklyn, that couldn’t support it. Nevertheless, Mujko green-lighted the project.

Tipped off, DOI checked the building and found cracks running down an exterior wall. The city deemed it structurally unsafe and halted construction.

Other inspectors took a wide range of bribes ranging from payments for their children’s tuition to tropical vacations to a paltry $600 payoff.

One supervisor, Derek St. Rose, told a developer he could avoid violations on his illegal hotel in Flushing by keeping inspectors from gaining access there, prosecutors said. He also gave up the name of the complainant who’d called the Buildings Department. The developer paid a visit to the complainant’s apartment and “harassed the complainant.”

Bribe-givers also bought off Housing Preservation and Development inspectors who were supposed to make sure landlords maintain safe conditions for tenants.

Housing Department inspectors Luis Soto and Oliver Ortiz, prosecutors say, drafted fake evacuation notices to try to force tenants out of a building the owner was trying to sell in rapidly gentrifying Bushwick. DOI learned of the scam and prevented the eviction.

Across the East River in Manhattan, Donald O’Connor, the buildings department chief of development for the borough, took bribes from an engineer, a bar owner and a developer for, among other things, alerting them to undercover visits by his own inspectors, prosecutors say.

One particularly brazen alleged bribe-taker, Buildings Department supervisory inspector Wilson Garcia, got a Puerto Rico vacation from one developer to alert him to pending audits. DOI and NYPD investigators say they recovered cocaine and illegal guns while searching his home and car.

The investigation began two years ago with a clean buildings inspector who was offered a bribe and turned in the bribe-giver. From there, investigators checked text messages and inspection records and discovered an alarming pattern of questionable inspections by the same inspectors.

Over two years investigators wiretapped conversations and surveilled inspectors, finding multiple unrelated schemes — an indication of how pervasive bribe-taking was. One scam even involved an alleged associate of the Bonanno crime family, prosecutors say.

The Housing Department probe began a year ago with a routine audit that indicated inspectors were signing off as remedied on violations that were still in place.

Early Tuesday the defendants were told to report to the 1st Precinct in Tribeca. The parade of suspects began as dawn broke and a slight snow fell. There were so many they had to be loaded into four vans.

The suspects said nothing as they passed reporters. Most lowered their heads and tried to cover their faces with coats as they were taken to court, where bribery charges were filed against them Tuesday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said all the tainted buildings have been checked and shut down or deemed safe. “I’m outraged at what this investigation has uncovered,” Chandler said. “These accused individuals put their own enrichment ahead of their duty and moral obligation to keep New Yorkers safe.”

Housing Commissioner Vicki Been added, “There is no room at (the department) for corruption or bribery, and no tolerance for individuals who would abuse their position.”



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