PHILADELPHIA — A jury here convicted eight city plumbing inspectors in October on extortion charges for routinely taking bribes of $5 to $20 from plumbers and others. Jurors also found seven of the eight inspectors guilty of extortion.
The convicted inspectors are among 13 indicted in March (April, pg. 1). The five others already pleaded guilty and are waiting to be sentenced.
The inspectors, who worked for the city’s Construction Services Department in the Department of Licenses and Inspections, took the bribes in the amounts of $5 to $20 for as long as 20 years. The total amount exceeded $169,000, prosecutors said. Wads of cash were concealed inside triplicate permit forms or palmed in handshakes, they said.
During the trial, the inspectors maintained that they never demanded payment or violated the city’s plumbing code as a result of the cash. Prosecutors called more than 40 plumbers to the stand. Many said they considered the “tips” a part of doing business to ensure a prompt inspection.
The racketeering charges stem the inspectors’ status as city enforcement officers who used their office as the basis of a “criminal enterprise.” The only inspector to escape the racketeering conviction had recently joined the department in early 2000 before the FBI began to videotape the inspectors from cars with concealed cameras.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, the inspectors each could receive a three-year, no-parole prison term, prosecutors said. In addition, the inspectors convicted of racketeering may be forced to forfeit personal assets linked to their criminal activity. No sentencing date has been set.