Sunday, July 26, 2015

NYC Building Inspector To Serve 2 To 7 Years In Massive Palm-Greasing Scandal Involving $450K In Bribes, 50 Gov't Employees, Landlords, Contractors; Bad Acts Included Engineering Phony Eviction Orders To Boot Below-Market Renters To Make Room For Higher-Paying Tenants: Manhattan DA

In New York City, the Staten Island Advance reports:
  • A building inspector from Staten Island was sentenced [] to up seven and a half years in prison for his role in a massive bribery scandal involving two city agencies and more than 100 properties in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

    Luis Soto was among the 50 defendants charged, including six Staten Islanders, in the scam, which included top officials at the city Buildings Department and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

    In announcing the indictments in February, Manhattan prosecutors said 16 city inspectors and dozens of landlords and contractors formed a network that exchanged $450,000 in payoffs to get safety violations dismissed and procure phony orders to toss out tenants.

    In all, 11 Buildings employees, five HPD employees, and a slew of property managers and owners were hit with multiple felony charges.

    The defendants conspired to whitewash violations, help builders jump the line on inspections, and, in some cases, engineer bogus evictions to make room for new tenants paying higher rent, authorities allege.

    The schemes involved $450,000 worth of bribes and 106 properties, mainly in Manhattan and Brooklyn, said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

    Soto, then 51, an HPD buildings inspector, and fellow inspector Oliver Ortiz of Brooklyn, dismissed 778 violations from 24 properties in Brooklyn in exchange for more than $41,000 in bribes, prosecutors said.

    The violations ranged from the presence of mice and roaches, to missing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, to a rotted doorframe, said officials.

    Soto also tried to vacate and evict tenants of two Bushwick buildings under false pretenses in exchange for a cash bribe, so the owners could charge higher rents, prosecutors allege.

    Two months ago, Soto pleaded guilty in Manhattan state Supreme Court to 20 counts, including felony charges of receiving a bribe, tampering with public records and falsifying business records, said a spokeswoman for Vance.

    Prosecutors requested a sentence of four to 12 years in prison, plus a $30,000 forfeiture, said the spokeswoman.

    The judge allowed Soto to take an open plea with a promised sentence of no less than two to six years behind bars and no more than three to nine years, without forfeiture, the spokeswoman said.

    The judge sentenced him [] to two and a half years to seven and a half years in prison, said prosecutors.

    "It's a sad thing," Soto's lawyer, Laurence Rothstein of Manhattan, said in a brief telephone interview. "He was a decent guy who got hooked on drugs. He had a lifetime of helping people, he was very generous to a lot of people ... (but) he let cocaine take over his life."

    Rothstein said his client had raised five children as well as a number of foster kids.
Source: Prison for building inspector from Staten Island in bribery scandal.

For a primer on palm-greasing, see The Economist: The etiquette of bribery: How to grease a palm (Corruption has its own elaborate etiquette).

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