70 Officials Arrested In NYC Housing Racket

Federal prosecutors announced last week that 70 current and former employees with the New York City Housing Authority had been arrested for taking more than $2 million in bribes, the Associated Press reported.

In announcing the arrests in a February 6 press conference, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said the decade-long corruption in the NYCHA was so widespread that nearly a third of the 335 developments in the city were affected.

The investigation into bribery and extortion charges led to the largest single-day bribery takedown in the history of the Department of Justice, according to Williams, infecting “every corner of the city.” The current and former employees were arrested in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and even North Carolina.

According to Williams, New York City Housing Authority employees, including superintendents and assistant superintendents, allegedly demanded more than $2 million in bribes from contractors in exchange for around $13 million of work in city housing developments. The work typically involved small contracting projects like window repairs and plumbing that were exempted from the competitive bidding requirement.

Any contractor who refused to pay the bribe would not be given the work, Williams said.

Describing the scheme as “classic pay-to-play,” Williams announced that the NYCHA’s “culture of corruption” was at an end.

New York’s public housing authority receives $1.5 billion each year from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the charging documents, the defendants demanded bribes amounting to between 10 and 20 percent of the jobs that could cost as little as $500-$2,000 a job. Some defendants demanded even more money in return for favoring one contractor over others for future work.

In a statement following the arrests, Bart Schwartz, the court-appointed watchdog for the NYCHA, described the mass arrests as a “step in the right direction” that sent the message that housing authority employees and contractors would not be able to take advantage of residents.