Federal and local authorities arrested dozens of employees of New York City’s public housing agency in a series of morning raids Tuesday linked to a massive bribery and extortion plot, according to prosecutors.
The raids, coordinated by Homeland Security Investigations and the city’s Department of Investigation, netted the most single-day bribery arrests in the history of the Justice Department, according to Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
In all, 70 people were arrested in six states.
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“As we allege, the 70 defendants charged today allegedly demanded over $2 million in bribe money from contractors in exchange for giving out over $13 million of work,” he said at a news briefing. “And if the contractors didn’t pay up, the defendants wouldn’t give them the work.”
According to court documents, an unnamed co-conspirator allegedly texted another asking how much of a bribe she should demand: “1k per cool?”
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“No problem babe, as long as your are being blessed,” Angela Williams, a 64-year-old suspect who is not related to the U.S. attorney, allegedly replied.
The New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, is the country’s largest public housing system and takes in more than $1.5 billion in federal funding every year, according to the DOJ.
As a public entity, it is required to bid contracts for most repairs or construction work and go with the lowest bidder. But there is an exemption for essential projects, such as plumbing emergencies or broken windows, that cost under $10,000.
Management at each building was allowed to make “no-bid” deals for those jobs.
All of the suspects were NYCHA superintendents or assistant superintendents when prosecutors say they demanded cuts of between $500 to $2,000 or more per job, ultimately collecting $2 million of taxpayers’ money since it came out of the funds contractors received from city and federal agencies.
“That has been my side hustle..lol 1k per.”
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“That’s classic pay-to-play, and this culture of corruption at NYCHA ends today,” Williams said.
The kickback scheme was so pervasive it took place in almost a third of NYCHA’s properties, he said.
Investigators are asking contractors who may have been victimized by similar demands for pay-to-play bribes to contact the DOJ’s whistleblower program at [email protected] or the city’s inspector general.
Most of the suspects have been charged with taking bribes and extortion, which carry 10- and 20-year maximum sentences in federal prison, respectively. Several face more charges.
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