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Boro Buildings officials indicted in bribe scheme

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In September, five high-ranking officials of the city Department of Buildings were indicted by the Manhattan district attorney on charges they accepted favors ranging from tickets for sporting events to vacations from a consultant to the buildings industry.

Though the indictment was handed up nearly nine months ago, new light was cast on the case last week when it was reported that Councilman Thomas Ognibene's (R-Middle Village) name had surfaced on wiretapped conversations involving the consultant, Ronald Lattanzio, Deputy Commissioner Barry Cox, Queens Borough Commissioner James Leonard and Executive Chief Inspector Joseph Mineo.

In an effort to root out corruption that has long plagued the Buildings Department, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has sought to temporarily transfer building inspection responsibilities over to the Fire Department until the City Council approves legislation to make it permanent. But last week Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) asked the mayor to halt his plans, questioning whether a shift in supervision would alleviate the problems.

Among those from the Buildings Department indicted in September were Cox, who is accused of receiving gifts from Lattanzio in exchange for waiving fees and fast-tracking permits; Leonard, who is accused of tampering with records; Mineo, who is accused of taking cash and gift certificates in exchange for signing buildings plans; Darral Hilton, the administrative chief inspector for Brooklyn, who is accused of accepting meals and tickets for providing favors; and Siegfried Wyner, a plans examiner accused of taking bribes in exchange for approving permits, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.

The others who were indicted in September include Edmund Cunningham, a retired Fire Department chief, accused of accepting a ski trip and a golf trip in exchange for official favors; Christopher Yagasits, a former state Department of Transportation employee, accused of accepting a theater ticket in exchange for approving Transportation Department permits; and Joseph Defronzo, a state employee, accused of bribing a buildings inspector and clerk, the district attorney said.

Hilton's trial was scheduled to begin Monday.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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