Federal officials are charging 70 current and former New York City Housing Authority employees with bribery and extortion, accusing them of demanding more than $2 million from contractors in exchange for giving out more than $13 million worth of work.
The charges come from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams described the scheme as "classic pay to play" and "the largest single-day bribery takedown in the history of the Justice Department" at a Tuesday morning press conference.
The case centers on superintendents and assistant superintendents at NYCHA developments, who decide which companies get certain no-bid contracts for repairs and construction, Williams said. These are generally smaller contracts valued at less than $10,000 but can still involve essential work such as plumbing and window repairs, he said.
The superintendents and assistant superintendents need to sign off on the contractors' work for these projects before they can get paid, but they refused to do so until they received their own cut in the form of a cash bribe, typically between $500 and $2,000, the case alleges. This was a regular practice that took place across almost 100 NYCHA buildings for roughly a decade throughout the five boroughs, according to Williams.
Williams stressed that NYCHA has been cooperative and supportive throughout the investigation and that nothing they found rose to the levels of senior leadership at the agency. Other contractors who have paid off superintendents should not be afraid to come forward with their stories, he said.
"NYCHA has ZERO tolerance for wrongful and illegal activity," NYCHA CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt said in a statement. "The individuals allegedly involved in these acts put their greed first and violated the trust of our residents, their fellow NYCHA colleagues and all New Yorkers."
Law enforcement officials arrested 66 of the 70 defendants Tuesday morning in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and North Carolina. Those arrested in the New York area are scheduled to appear in federal court later today.
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