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City Of Scandal

By Lynda Crawford

7 July 02

[parts snipped for brevity]

Prosecutors charged that more than half of the city's plumbing inspectors had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from contractors over the last 10 years.

In the last six months in New York City, a state senator, a city council member and a judge, as well as 18 current and former city tax assessors have been charged with crimes of corruption.

Add to this several conspiracy schemes to defraud September 11 charities, along with charges of theft by the head of Hale House, the highly regarded refuge for mothers and children. It makes one empathize with Diogenes, the noted Greek philosopher who walked about Athens with a lantern searching for an honest man -- and never finding one.

So how does the current wave of scandals and corruption measure against those in the city's past? How much does it cost the taxpayer? And can fraud, gross mismanagement, and criminal activity ever be stopped?

Government corruption also has been a mainstay of life in New York. In the first half of the 19th century, people got jobs with the police department by bribing politicians, and a promotion to captain cost $1,000, writes Luc Sante in his book, "Low Life." Even after getting jobs, police who failed to fork over money could find themselves assigned to 24-hour watch duty.

As William Marcy "Boss" Tweed tightened his grip on New York in the 1870s, Sante writes, "The city spent $10,000 on $75 worth of pencils, $171,000 for $4,000 in tables and chairs, and squandered $12 million on the infamous courthouse behind City Hall." Tammany judges sold court orders and other decisions and released candidates of favored lawyers in return for bribes.

Certainly, throughout much of the city's history, bribes were standard procedure for businesses eager to acquire the rights to build bridges, dig subways, install gas lines and electricity, or sell milk.

While church and business scandals have captured the lion's share of air time and front pages lately, old-fashioned government corruption continues unabated -- and in all three branches of government.

In March, City Councilmember Angel Rodriguez of Brooklyn, who narrowly lost his bid in January to become speaker of the new City Council, was indicted for extorting $50,000 in cash and $1.5 million in real estate in exchange for his support of a proposed supermarket project on the Red Hook waterfront. The developer for the project was a former New York City detective, who reportedly went to police after being approached about the bribe by the council member's partner and long-time friend, Jonathan Morales. Rodriguez and Morales have pleaded not guilty.

This spring, the Manhattan district attorney charged longtime state Senator Guy Velella of the Bronx and his father along with two other men of taking more than $250,000 in illegal payments between 1995 and 2000 to influence the awarding of public contracts. Velella has denied the charges and said he will seek re-election in November.

Another Bronx legislator, Assemblymember Gloria Davis, is the target of an investigation, also by the Manhattan district attorney and also involving alleged bribes to influence the awarding of construction contracts.

Moving on to the judiciary, in January, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Victor Barron was accused of soliciting and accepting an $18,000 bribe in exchange for settling a lawsuit by awarding $4.5 million to the plaintiff. The plaintiff's lawyer reported the bribery attempt.

The Brooklyn district attorney is reviewing all of Barron's previous cases. At the same time, allegations have surfaced of misconduct and improper behavior by seven other Brooklyn judges, although none as severe as the charges against Barron. 

As the recent indictments of plumbing inspectors make clear, the Buildings Department remains especially intractable and has been for at least 20 years. In 1996, for example, 18 elevator inspectors pled guilty to federal charges, and two years ago, the department's number two official, its top person in Queens and three other employees were indicted. 

But corruption reaches beyond the Buildings Department. In February, 18 Manhattan tax assessors were indicted on charges that they lowered assessments on at least 500 of the city's most expensive commercial properties in exchange for bribes totaling $10 million. The assessors may have been on the take for more than 30 years and cost the city as much as $1 billion in revenue

On another front, a series of investigative reports in the Village Voice allege that Russell Harding, Giuliani's president of the New York City Housing Development Corporation, used public funds for private extravagance. Harding and a top aide spent more than $250,000 in city money for first class airline tickets, meals at fancy restaurants and other expenses.

Submitted by: Werner Hetzner 

 Source: http://www.gothamgazette.com/iotw/scandals/

 

 

 

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