NYC building inspectors charged with ignoring safety for bribes

By Jonathan Allen NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fifty New York City building inspectors and construction industry workers were charged with corruption on Tuesday, accused of schemes in which building problems were overlooked in exchange for bribes, city investigators said. The schemes involved some of the most senior building officials charged with overseeing one of the world's most valuable construction markets, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. told a news conference. The chief construction inspectors for the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn were among those indicted after a two-year investigation, Vance said. "Today's cases are harbingers of other casualties of the current housing boom," Vance said. Rather than a "unifying conspiracy," investigators found at least 26 independent bribery schemes running through two city building agencies, Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters told reporters. All 50 people have been charged with felonies. The most serious charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. In one case, the city's chief of development for Brooklyn construction and his wife accepted bribes of $200,000 for home mortgage payments, two cars, a Royal Caribbean cruise and cash for flights and other purchases from a so-called construction expeditor, Vance said. The expeditor, David Weiszer, gave the chief a list of addresses owned by his clients, Vance said. The chief then sent a "handpicked" buildings inspector, Artan Mujko, who invariably passed the buildings for inspection, Vance said. Mujko and Weiszer were among those indicted. In separate bribery schemes, prosecutors say inspectors at the city's Housing Preservation & Development agency took bribes to delete records of safety problems and other violations that would otherwise prevent a landlord from selling a property. HPD officials also made fraudulent vacate orders in exchange for bribes to help landlords evict tenants so they could replace them with higher-paying tenants, prosecutors said. Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said he was "outraged" on behalf of "more than a thousand honest public servants" at the department, noting a whistleblower in the department helped spark the investigation. HPD Commissioner Vicki Been echoed those remarks: "The charges against these employees involve a flagrant abuse of authority for personal gain." About $33 billion was spent on construction in the city in 2014, near the levels seen during the last building boom that ended in 2008, according to a report by the New York Building Congress. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants 80,000 new affordable homes and 160,000 new market-rate homes built by 2024. (Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Eric Beech)