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NYC Building Corruption Probe Nets 50

Friday, February 13, 2015

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A man accused of greasing some of the highest-ranking palms in New York City's building agencies remained at large Thursday (Feb. 12), after 49 co-defendants were rounded up in one of the city's biggest pay-to-play scandals ever.

David Weiszer, 65, of Allentown, PA, was the lone fugitive in the massive corruption investigation that exploded into the public Tuesday with felony indictments against 50 New York building inspectors, contractors, clerks and expeditors.

Weiszer, an unregistered expeditor, is accused of bribing everyone from clerks to construction chiefs to gain a variety of favors for his properties, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.

VancePressConference
Photos unless noted: Manhattan District Attorney's Office

Flanked by deputies Tuesday, Manhattan D.A. Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announces the indictment of 50 New York City building inspectors, contractors, employees, expeditors and property owners.

But Weiszer had plenty of company, in both the private and public sectors, Vance said.

At a press conference Tuesday, Vance painted a complex picture of widespread and varied schemes in which high-ranking building officials turned a blind eye to rodent infestations, fire traps and hundreds of other building violations in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash, vacations, SUVs and even a house.

To date, the multiple frauds involve more than 100 properties and some $450,000 in bribes, Vance said. The investigation continues, he added.

The defendants include 11 New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) employees and five city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) employees.

The rest are private-sector property managers, contractors and expeditors (filing representatives registered by the DOB to act as middlemen between the departments and contractors, homeowners, and managing agents).

Senior Officials Charged

All are facing a variety of felony charges that include bribery, bribe receiving, falsifying business records, tampering with public records and official misconduct. All of the charges carry potential prison terms.

The defendants include the chiefs of construction development in Manhattan and Brooklyn—individuals at the "highest level of management" in the city offices, Vance said.

BriberyMap

More than 106 buildings were used in the bribery scheme, in which more than $450,000 changed hands.

The stunning sweep caps "the first phase" of an investigation that began two years ago into a single report of a bribery of a single DOB inspector.

The corruption played out in numerous schemes and methods detailed in 26 separate indictments unsealed Tuesday, Vance said.

"Bribery schemes compromised two important city agencies and fair competition in our robust housing and real estate development markets,” Vance said in an announcement of the charges.

“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."

Shortcuts and Bribes

According to court documents and statements in court, 11 DOB employees in Manhattan and Brooklyn, ranging from clerks to chiefs, allegedly accepted more than $400,000 in bribes. In exchange, the employees allegedly cleared complaints, Stop Work Orders and violations, and expedited DOB inspections.

Weiszer, for example, is charged with bribing multiple DOB employees up to the Chiefs of Construction Development in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“On a near-daily basis, Weiszer would send a list of addresses of properties owned by his clients to one of the chiefs of development, enabling his clients to jump the line for inspections, bypassing numerous proper channels along the way," Vance said.

“And without fail, the chiefs would send a particular inspector to go sign off on inspections of those properties, and all within the same day.”

The inspector, Artan Mujko, eventually ended up $100,000 richer, and the Chief received $200,000 for mortgage payments, two SUVs, a cruise and "other valuable, but all illegal, gifts," Vance said.

David Weiszer

David Weiszer, of Allentown, PA, was the only defendant among 50 charged who remained at large on Thursday.

Weiszer also paid off clerks (now also charged) who allowed him to cut past people in line, even though he lacked the required credentials.

Weiszer was the only defendant who was not arrested Tuesday.

Violations Dismissed

In another case, Vance said, DOB Chief of Development for Manhattan Construction Donald O'Connor took bribes from developers and owners of high-profile Manhattan bars.

In exchange, O'Connor would "wavie their fees, dismiss their complaints, alert them to undercover site inspections" and claim to inspect buildings he never visited, Vance said.

O’Connor also is accused of helping a contractor hide from city oversight after a worker fell from an elevated steel beam on a job site. 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 New York Times reported.

Two other inspectors dismissed nearly 800 violations related to 24 properties in just three months by changing the records in city databases, Vance said.

DOB
Department of Buildings

New York City's Department of Buildings oversees code enforcement for nearly 1 million properties. The agency was created in 1977, when the Housing and Development Administration was separated into two: DOB and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which is also implicated in the scandal.

A Brooklyn HPD inspector is accused of taking more than $20,000 from a property manager to remove 476 violations at 13 properties. The violations ranged from cockroaches and missing smoke detectors to bad lighting and a failing ceiling. The same inspector is implicated in dismissing hundreds of similar violations at dozens of other properties.

That inspector and another are even accused of kicking tenants out of their building without a valid order and under false pretenses, Vance said.

Then there was the DOB Supervisory Inspector who allegedly schemed with a developer to expunge complaints against the developer and alert him to impending audits in exchange for a Puerto Rican vacation.

The bribery case even turned up a separate banking fraud case involving a check-cashing service, authorities said.

Investigation Continues

The fraud was driven by the need to clear violations that were standing in the way of lucrative sales in New York City's red-hot real-estate market, he said.

More charges appeared likely.

“Today’s cases, unfortunately, are harbingers of other potential casualties of the current housing boom—tenant safety and government integrity,” said Vance.

He added: "The whole matter remains under investigation by the Manhattan DA Rackets Bureau."

   

Tagged categories: Building codes; Building owners; Fraud; Government; Housing; Inspection; Laws and litigation; Maintenance programs

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