In a stunning blow to New York’s public housing authority, federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged 70 current and former NYCHA employees in what was called the “largest single-day bribery takedown” ever by the U.S. Justice Department.
Most of the accused were arrested in the morning raids for allegedly taking kickbacks in exchange for awarding lucrative no-bid repair and maintenance contracts. The scheme involved extorting contractors for cash bribes of up to 20% of a contract’s value, pocketing between $500 to $2,000 per deal, according to authorities.
In total, the defendants are accused of reaping over $2 million in bribes by steering $13 million worth of contracts to favored vendors across approximately 100 NYCHA buildings. The brazen corruption went on for years right under management’s nose, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams condemned the vast fraud that exploited low-income NYCHA residents who rely on the agency’s aging housing stock. “The residents of NYCHA deserve to live with dignity and integrity,” Williams said, adding the accused “violated the trust” of all New Yorkers.
Each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison on extortion and bribery charges. The supervisors who allegedly abused their authority to solicit the bribes also face conspiracy counts.
NYCHA head Lisa Bova-Hiatt vowed to root out wrongdoing, saying the agency has “zero tolerance” for illegal activity. The scandal comes just after NYCHA negotiated a court-ordered agreement to remedy deplorable living conditions through stepped-up maintenance and inspections.
In damage control mode, NYCHA leadership promised full cooperation with authorities to hold accountable employees who “put their greed first” over their duty to serve city residents. The indictments aim to end the culture of corruption that has too often defined America’s largest public housing system.