NATIONAL NEWS

70 arrests highlight corruption in nation’s largest public housing authority, US attorney says

Feb 6, 2024, 9:29 AM | Updated: 2:28 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — The largest public housing authority in the nation was infested by a “classic pay-to-play” culture of corruption where workers dispensed repair jobs to contractors willing to pay bribes, a prosecutor said Tuesday as authorities revealed they had arrested 70 current and former employees for illegally pocketing over $2 million.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams told a news conference that the corruption was so widespread over at least the last decade that it affected nearly a third of the 335 housing developments citywide where 1 in 17 New Yorkers lived.

Bribery and extortion charges led to a roundup of current and former employees of the New York City Housing Authority that represented the largest single-day bribery takedown in the history of the U.S. Justice Department, Williams said.

“The corruption we’ve alleged infected every corner of the city,” he said. The defendants were arrested in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and North Carolina.

Williams said housing superintendents, assistant superintendents and other employees demanded over $2 million in bribe money from contractors in exchange for over $13 million of work, which usually involved small but essential jobs such as plumbing or window repairs that did not require competitive bidding.

“If the contactors didn’t pay up, the defendants wouldn’t give them the work. That’s classic pay-to-play, and this culture of corruption at NYCHA ends today,” he said.

The city’s public housing authority receives over $1.5 billion in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development each year.

In charging documents, authorities said that the defendants typically demanded the payment of bribes valued at between 10% and 20% of jobs that sometimes cost as little as $500 to $2,000.

Some defendants, authorities said, demanded even greater amounts of money in return for using their discretion to favor one contractor over another.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams told reporters in Albany that he expected to be briefed later in the day about the probe.

Bart Schwartz, a court-appointed monitor who has served as a watchdog over the housing authority for the past five years, in a statement called the arrests a “step in the right direction” so that employees and vendors know they cannot continue taking advantage of residents.

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Associated Press Writer Maysoon Khan contributed to this report.

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70 arrests highlight corruption in nation’s largest public housing authority, US attorney says