Dozens of New York City Housing Authority building supers were arrested Tuesday in a massive multi-agency takedown for demanding bribes while contracting out minor apartment repairs, officials said.
Tuesday’s bust, which landed 55 current NYCHA employees and 15 retirees in handcuffs, marked the largest number of federal bribery charges filed in a single day in Department of Justice history, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said.
The 70 building superintendents and assistant superintendents were charged with receiving kickbacks for awarding contracts at their facilities — which amounted to a third of all the NYCHA complexes in the city, federal officials said.
“Instead of acting in the interests of NYCHA residents, the City of New York, or taxpayers, the 70 defendants charged today allegedly used their jobs at NYCHA to line their own pockets,” Williams said at a Tuesday press conference.
If convicted, each super arrested could receive between 10 and 20 years behind bars, officials said.
NYCHA supers are accused of having their palms out at public housing complexes in Harlem and Washington Heights, the Lower East Side, the Bronx, the Rockaways, north Brooklyn and Coney Island, a map of the investigation shows.
Building superintendents were arrested in the Taft and Martin Luther King Houses in Harlem as well as the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, the largest NYCHA complex in the five boroughs.
The defendants were arrested Tuesday morning throughout the city and across six states following the year-long investigation, officials said. The building supers are accused of receiving bribes between 2013 and the end of last year.
The defendants had a great deal of power in awarding repair and construction contracts of under $10,000, Williams said. The work, considered “micro-purchases” that could be awarded with no-bid contracts, was mostly for plumbing fixes, window repairs, paint work and minor construction work.
But the supers arrested would hold off on approving the repair work and giving NYCHA the green light to pay contractors until they got some cash for themselves, Williams said.
“The superintendents would demand their own cut in order to do their jobs in assigning and approving those repairs,” Williams said. “This misconduct became a regular practice to dozens of superintendents.”
The contractors, none of whom have been arrested, would often pay the bribes without hesitation, Williams said.
“They knew if they didn’t the defendants would give the jobs to someone else,” he said.
Those arrested worked in about 100 of the city’s NYCHA complexes. The bribes they pocketed amounted to about $1,000 to $2,000 per job, but they “added up,” Williams said.
All told, the superintendents received about $2 million in bribes for approving about $13 million on construction contracts, he said.
Those arrested were apprehended by the feds, the city Department of Investigation, Homeland Security and the office of the Inspector General for Housing and Urban Development.
“We are firmly committed to cleaning up the corruption that has plagued NYCHA for too long,” Williams said.
The bribes were so baked into the approval process that in some cases it was considered by contractors as a minor cost for doing business with NYCHA and was bartered openly.
According to the complaint against retired Brooklyn building superintendent Angela Williams, who was arrested at her home in South Carolina, a contractor asked her in June 2019 if “1k per” no bid contract was “cool?”
“No problem babe,” she responded, according to the complaint.
While the employees are all accused of similar behavior, only a handful of them appeared to be working together, according to the criminal complaint.
Supers Joseph Fuller, 42, George Kemp, 49, and Chrisie Salter, 46, often shared bribes they received for work in housing complexes across the city, prosecutors charge.
After awarding one contract in 2022, Fuller allegedly told the contractor offering him a bribe that he “needed to begin paying Fuller a higher amount for each no-bid contract because Fuller needed to share the money with Kemp,” the criminal complaint reads.
An unindicted co-conspirator, only identified as a “superintendent with the NYCHA Office of Mold Assessment and Remediation,” also reached out to a contractor on behalf of Angela Williams, the retired Brooklyn super.
“Please take care of my friend in Farragut,” the mold remediation super told the contractor about Williams, according to courts papers. “She will be very disappointed.”
“You could give her 5k total,” the co-conspirator wrote in a text. “I’ll make up the difference cause she is my good friend. I’ll also give you 2 developments next month. Deal?”
“Please erase this text after you read it,” the co-conspirator added.
The 55 suspects currently employed were all suspended by NYCHA. Steps had been taken to make sure their positions were replaced so no current work in their buildings would be stalled or halted, agency officials said.
NYCHA Chief Executive Officer Lisa Bova-Hiatt said those arrested “put their greed first and violated the trust of our residents, their fellow NYCHA colleagues and all New Yorkers.”
“These actions are counter to everything we stand for as public servants and will not be tolerated in any form,” she added. “In the past five years, NYCHA has achieved many significant milestones, while remaining vigilant to ensure integrity in every area of our work. We will not allow bad actors to disrupt or undermine our achievements.”
This is not the first time the feds have arrested NYCHA superintendents for taking bribes on no-bid contracts. Last February, building supers Leroy Gibbs and Julio Figueroa were sentenced to less than two and a half years in prison after being convicted of soliciting bribes from contractors between 2019 and 2022.
In 2021, the city’s Department of Investigation recommended NYCHA make wholesale changes to how it awards no-bid contracts that would “remove responsibility for micro-purchases from staff within the housing development and places the responsibility instead with specialized centralized staff with the necessary expertise.” But NYCHA rejected the proposal.
After Tuesday’s arrests, NYCHA has agreed to making the change, as well as to implement 13 other recommendations aimed at removing the temptation to solicit bribes.
“(The current no-bid contract process) was intended to ensure swift completion of necessary lower-cost construction and maintenance work in the NYCHA developments,” Department of Investigation Commissioner Jocely Strauber said. “(The bribes) drove up the cost of this kind of work and diverted valuable public funds away from public housing and into the pockets of corrupt NYCHA staff.”
Mayor Adams, who was in Albany Tuesday speaking about the city’s migrant crisis, said he hasn’t been fully briefed on the details of the investigation.
“Taking money from the city in general is wrong,” Adams said. “But when you go down to NYCHA residents, everyone knows how I feel about the investments we’re making in NYCHA.”
Asked for comment on Tuesday’s bust, City Hall noted the micro-purchase program at the heart of the feds’ case is operated by NYCHA alone without any input from the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services.
“Anyone who breaks the law in New York City will be held accountable — no matter where they work. But misusing resources set aside for our public housing residents is particularly egregious,” Adams spokesman Charles Lutvak said. “NYCHA residents deserve the same quality of life as any New Yorker, and our administration will not tolerate any level of fraud, abuse, or waste that gets in the way of our efforts to deliver that.”
NYCHA residents cheered the arrests, believing that the supers’ search for contractors willing to give them a piece of the action likely delayed needed repairs to their apartments.
“Obviously if they were arrested they were doing something wrong,” Myrisa Lewis, 47, who lives in the Martin Luther King Houses, told the Daily News. “It’s ridiculous how long a work order takes. It shouldn’t take a month and a half to fix a door knob.”
While the bribes have been going on for years, U.S. Attorney Williams hopes Tuesday’s arrests will finally squash the practice.
“We wanted to send a message with a 70-person take down,” he said. “We hope it finally puts an end to the culture of corruption.”
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