BY ROBERT P. MADER Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors have indicted 19 current and former New York City inspectors on bribery charges. Alan Vinegrad, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation, alleged that the defendants – 18 plumbing inspectors and one former boiler inspector – extorted bribes in exchange for providing inspection approvals on plumbing projects throughout New York City.
Five of the 19 defendants were supervisors.
Those arrested include: Neil Muccio, the administrative chief plumbing inspector; George Friedlander, the chief plumbing inspector for Brooklyn; Emanuel Lauria, the chief plumbing inspector for the Bronx; Sam Caravello, the chief plumbing inspector for Manhattan; and John Rosenberg, the chief plumbing inspector for Queens.
The plumbing inspectors charged include 15 of the 24 plumbing inspectors currently employed by the city.
According to the complaints unsealed June 25 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, the inspectors charged extorted cash payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars between the early 1990s and 2001. In exchange for bribes, the inspectors in many instances approved plumbing work without performing an inspection at all, according to the indictment.
On occasion, in return for cash payments from a cooperating contractor, the inspectors did not even leave their vehicles before signing off on projects, and one inspector signed off on two projects over coffee at a doughnut shop instead of performing the inspections. In other cases, the inspectors performed inspections but overlooked various violations.
The investigation started when a Queens plumbing contractor was caught attempting to pay a bribe. The contractor, identified in the indictment as Complaining Witness 1, was wired by city investigators and recorded conversations with inspectors and made cash payments to them.
An investigative team in the department of investigation obtained more than 100 hours of recorded conversations between the contractor and 13 of the plumbing inspectors and the boiler inspector charged in the case. During the investigation the cooperating contractor made 69 payoffs to the 13 plumbing inspectors and the boiler inspector, ranging from $50 to $600 and totaling $9,000, according to court records.
New York officials said they re-inspected all the jobs approved by the plumbing inspectors during the course of the two-year investigation. Because the alleged misconduct has been going on for as long as 10 years, city officials also said they will re-inspect jobs approved by the defendants since the early 1990s.
Patricia J. Lancaster, the city’s new buildings commissioner, who took office as part of the administration of Michael Bloomberg, said in a news conference that the city will hire an outside contractor to perform the inspections. Lancaster also said the city has not decided if it will hire new inspectors or hire outside contractors on a permanent basis.
As part of the probe, investigators interviewed numerous other contractors who have admitted to paying bribes to the charged inspectors since the early 1990s.
The complaints charge each defendant with extortion — unlawfully obtaining money under color of official right — in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. 1951, a crime carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
In addition to the five supervisors, the defendants are: Robert Chait, Nassau County, plumbing inspector in Manhattan; Thomas Degoski, Queens, retired plumbing inspector in Brooklyn; Anthony Diberandino, Staten Island, plumbing inspector in Staten Island; Franko Dobric, Queens, assistant chief plumbing inspector for Queens; Steven Ferrara, Suffolk County, plumbing inspector in the Bronx; Vernon Giles, Queens, retired plumbing inspector in Queens; John Hansen, Nassau County, plumbing inspector in Manhattan; Martin Lara, Brooklyn, plumbing inspector in Manhattan; Carlos Perez, Queens, retired boiler inspector; Daniel Sacknoff, Brooklyn, plumbing inspector in Brooklyn; Gregory Sahakian, Queens, plumbing inspector in Queens; Frank Sgambati, Queens, plumbing inspector in the Bronx; Carl Termine, Staten Island, plumbing inspector in Brooklyn; and Joseph Truc, Westchester County, retired chief plumbing inspector for Queens.