Latest NYC housing corruption is tip of the iceberg for city gov’t

3 min read

Last week’s bribery charges against 70 New York City Housing Authority employees are just the latest in a long list of scandals by low- and mid-level public workers in New York who abuse their power over their public mini-fiefdoms.

On Tuesday, the Manhattan US attorney accused the employees of skimming $2 million in bribes in connection with NYCHA repair contracts worth less than $10,000 apiece but that added up to a whopping $250 million.

It was the largest number of Justice Department bribery charges ever in a single day.

The bribes averaged about $28,000 per worker, though some managers made far more. Nirmal Lorick hauled in $153,000 from $1.3 million in contracts, prosecutors say; Juan Mercado scored $314,300 off $1.8 million in contracts.

NYCHA’s $78 billion repair backlog, on top of ongoing maintenance needs at its 2,411 buildings, makes it ripe for corruption.

And corruption has long plagued the agency, from the lowest-level workers right up to the top:

70 current and former NYCHA workers were arrested and charged Tuesday in a 10-year, $2 million “classic pay-for-play” corruption scheme.
70 current and former NYCHA workers were arrested and charged Tuesday in a 10-year, $2 million “classic pay-for-play” corruption scheme.
  • In a 2018 lawsuit, the feds charged that NYCHA managers and staff devised schemes to hide problems from federal inspectors — papering over holes, shutting down water piping to conceal leaks, etc.
  • Before that, the city Department of Investigations found then-NYCHA boss Shola Olatoye falsely certified to federal regulators that 55,000 units had been inspected for lead paint hazards.

Even small-time corruption adds up. Residents suffer, as stolen money could otherwise be used for repairs and upgrades.

But such skimming, deception, and self-dealing have been pervasive not only at NYCHA but throughout city government:

  • Gothamites have seen stunning cases of school custodians, uh, cleaning up — such as the two janitors and other workers forced to repay $1.4 million for money they raked in via no-show jobs a decade ago.
  • A huge 1988 scandal saw 28 health inspectors and supervisors charged with extorting bribes worth hundreds of thousands by threatening to shutter some 300 city restaurants.

Note, too, that this federal investigation was built on one by the city Department of Investigation five years back, duly flagged at the time by the left-leaning site The City and in these pages.

Which suggests zero interest in the rest of the city government in exposing such corruption.

Juan Mercado, center in the Polo shirt, is escorted by law enforcement out of 26 Federal Plaza in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.
The corruption scheme involved the largest number of federal bribery raps brought in a single day in Department of Justice history, according to reports.
Michael Nagle for NY Post

It’s as if insiders’ general attitude is that there’s really nothing wrong with abusing the public trust to line your own pockets — even though the actual victims are usually the city’s most vulnerable.

As far as NYCHA goes, housing expert Howard Husock argues that privatizing management is the best way to limit corruption.

Hmm: City insiders generally treat “privatization” as a dirty word, along with “merit pay,” “productivity increases” and anything else that might make the government deliver more bang to the public for its bucks.

Makes you wonder who’s really working for whom.

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