In a major blow to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), 70 current and former employees were charged with bribery and extortion on Tuesday, marking the largest number of bribery charges filed in a single day by the Justice Department.
The suspects were accused of accepting cash bribes from contractors in exchange for lucrative contracts to work on nearly 100 buildings in all five boroughs of the city. According to federal prosecutors, more than $2 million in bribes were accepted, resulting in the awarding of over $13 million in work to these contractors. The arrests were made during a major raid on Tuesday morning, with suspects being taken into custody in handcuffs.
At a press conference following the arrests, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, stated, “This culture of corruption at NYCHA ends today.” He went on to call the scheme a “classic pay to play” situation, in which those involved were driven by greed and had violated the trust of NYCHA residents, their colleagues, and all New Yorkers.
The corruption at NYCHA primarily involved smaller contracts, such as a window or plumbing repairs, which initially went under the radar. This was due to the fact that the agency’s local development managers were allowed to award contracts under $10,000 without going through the public bidding process. However, these smaller contracts raised red flags for potential corruption, and some contractors had been charged with bribery in the past, including nine in 2021.
Lisa Bova-Hiatt, NYCHA’s chief executive, expressed her disappointment in the accused employees and their actions, stating, “They put their greed first and violated the trust of our residents, their fellow NYCHA colleagues, and all New Yorkers.” She also reassured the public that steps would be taken to prevent any such corrupt behavior in the future, saying, “We will not allow bad actors to disrupt or undermine our achievements.”
The city’s Housing Authority has been facing a multitude of other issues, in addition to the recent bribery scandal. These include criticism for operating old buildings with rodents, leaky pipes, and broken elevators, as well as a backlog of hundreds of thousands of people on the housing waiting list.
Furthermore, the agency is facing a daunting $78 billion worth of repairs that are urgently needed. Meanwhile, the amount of rent collected by NYCHA has been at an all-time low, with the agency receiving only 65% of the rent charged in 2022.
This latest scandal comes as a major setback to Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat who had made affordable housing a key focus of his agenda. In the fall of 2021, he announced an ambitious goal of 100,000 new homes to help address the severe housing shortage in the city. The city’s Housing Authority is the largest in the country and receives over $1.5 billion in federal funding. This makes the need for accountability and transparency within the agency all the more urgent.
Experts say that this record-breaking number of bribery charges filed in one day sends a strong message that corruption will not be tolerated in New York City, particularly in agencies that are responsible for providing essential services to its residents.
While the charges against these 70 NYCHA employees will now have to go through the judicial process, the hope is that this will serve as a wake-up call for other public servants to uphold the integrity of their positions and to prioritize the needs of the public over their personal gain.