The Justice Department recently carried out the largest number of arrests related to bribery and extortion in New York City, targeting numerous public housing employees. As reported by The New York Times, federal prosecutors in Manhattan have filed charges against 70 current and former employees of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). These individuals are accused of accepting cash bribes from contractors in exchange for Housing Authority contracts.
According to prosecutors, the suspects allegedly received bribes totaling more than $2 million from contractors who were vying for contracts related to nearly 100 buildings under the Housing Authority across all five boroughs. The value of these contracts exceeded $13 million, and the suspects reportedly received kickbacks ranging from 10% to 20%, and sometimes even more, as stated by prosecutors and reported by the Times.
During a press conference held on Tuesday morning, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, declared that the era of corruption within NYCHA has come to an end. He referred to it as a “classic pay to play” scheme, emphasizing the severity of the issue. The report further highlighted that a significant portion of the corruption revolved around smaller contracts, like window or plumbing repairs, which went unnoticed initially. These contracts, valued at less than $10,000, could be awarded by local development managers without public bidding, making them vulnerable to exploitation.
Lisa Bova-Hiatt, NYCHA’s chief executive, said the suspects “put their greed first and violated the trust of our residents, their fellow NYCHA colleagues, and all New Yorkers.” “We will not allow bad actors to disrupt or undermine our achievements,” she added. Meanwhile, the Housing Authority of the city, which is responsible for providing housing to over half a million New Yorkers across more than 2,400 buildings, is facing a multitude of other challenges.
Critics have strongly criticized the agency for its failure to address the deteriorating condition of its aging buildings, which are plagued by problems such as rodent infestations, leaky pipes, and malfunctioning elevators. Moreover, the Housing Authority is struggling with a significant backlog of hundreds of thousands of individuals on its housing waiting list. The current estimate for the required repairs of these properties stands at approximately $78 billion.
Interestingly, despite these pressing issues, individuals are paying less rent to the agency than ever before. In the year 2022, the Housing Authority collected a record-low 65% of the rent it had charged. Being the largest housing authority in the country, the agency receives substantial federal funding amounting to over $1.5 billion.
Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, has emphasized the crucial importance of affordable housing. Last autumn, he announced an ambitious objective of constructing 100,000 new homes to tackle the severe housing shortage in the city. Recently, a New York Supreme Court justice dismissed felony charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg against two individuals who had purchased counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards.
According to a report from the New York Post, Bragg had filed charges against two individuals, identified only by their initials, J.O. and R.V. These individuals were accused of acquiring fake vaccine cards from a stripper named Jasmine Clifford in New Jersey, allegedly in an attempt to evade New York City’s vaccine mandate. The Manhattan DA had selected 16 individuals out of approximately 100 who were believed to have obtained counterfeit vaccine cards from the same stripper, charging all of them with felony criminal possession of a forged instrument.
Out of the initial 16 individuals charged, 14 opted to plead guilty to lesser charges. However, J.O. and R.V. decided to pursue the dismissal of their cases. Bragg opposed their efforts, resulting in the case being transferred to Lantry’s jurisdiction.
Supreme Court Justice Brandon T. Lantry wasn’t having it however, pointing out that the Manhattan DA’s office under Bragg’s leadership has “routinely — nearly daily — move[s] to dismiss significantly more serious counts or entire indictments.”
“These motions submitted [by Bragg and his prosecutors] are made months or even years after the 45-day period has expired to dismiss … sexual assaults, drug sales, robbery, burglary, and other violent and non-violent serious felony offenses,” Lantry wrote.