NYC building inspectors, contractors surrender to authorities over bribery scheme

Nearly 50 city building inspectors and construction contractors — some with alleged mob ties —turned themselves in Tuesday as part of scheme in which builders paid off city employees to fast-track projects. Inspectors also routinely took cash to overlook building code violations, authorities said.

BY ERIK BADIA , GREG B. SMITH NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Published: Tuesday, February 10, 2015, 8:20 AM Updated: Tuesday, February 10, 2015, 10:47 AM

A big takedown of corrupt city inspectors Tuesday uncovered a disturbing pattern: Inspectors routinely took cash to look the other way on serious building code violations, authorities said.

By late Tuesday morning, 49 of 50 defendants were in custody, paraded out of the 1st Precinct stationhouse in Tribeca in handcuffs to await arraignment on a variety of corruption charges in multiple schemes dating back to 2012.

The tainted crew included eight building inspectors, two Buildings Department borough chiefs, five Housing Preservation and Development inspectors, and a Small Business Services employee, according to a source familiar with the case.

Also arrested were multiple contractors and property owners or managers. A handful of defendants are associated with the mob, the source said.

One building inspector arrested a month ago by the city Department of Investigation and the NYPD was caught with cocaine and guns, a source said. The worker was in city uniform and getting into a city car, where cops discovered bags of cocaine packaged for apparent sale. A search of this worker’s home then turned up illegal firearms, the source said.

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The investigation began two years ago and over time investigators uncovered multiple unrelated schemes — an indication of just how pervasive the bribe-taking was.

Perhaps most disturbingly investigators with DOI and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Rackets Bureau caught property owners who’d been cited for serious code violations during renovations paying off inspectors to claim the problems were corrected — even when they weren’t.

All told more than 100 buildings are implicated, mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan, the source said.

The perfidious parade of suspects began early Tuesday as dawn broke and a slight snow fell. They were led out of the police station in handcuffs and loaded into four vans.

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

The arrests were first reported Monday afternoon on nydailynews.com.

Investigators uncovered a disturbing pattern of give-to-get, where building inspectors would expedite projects and sign off on certificates of occupancy — for a fee.

The Buildings Department is tasked with approving all new construction and major renovation work in the city, ensuring it is safe and up to code.

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If an inspector withholds approval, a project can be delayed indefinitely, running up costs. Sources said contractors made regular payments to multiple inspectors to make sure their jobs received fast approval.

The bribery scheme hatched by the contractors and Buildings employees has been playing out across the city for years, sources told The News.

Construction in the city has increased dramatically in the past few years, with a 14% jump in job filings in fiscal 2014 and a 35% increase in new building permits, records show.

At the same time, there’s been a spike in complaints to the Buildings Department, up nearly 20% in fiscal 2014, to more than 70,000 from 58,900. Because of the increase in complaints, the department made an extra 10,000 inspections and issued more than 47,700 building code violations — a 10% spike.

The department currently has 185 inspectors, 169 associate inspectors and 49 administrative inspectors, records show.

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