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6 boro building inspectors charged with taking bribes

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Six current and former Queens inspectors for the Department of Buildings are among nearly a score of city inspectors charged with extortion in exchange for providing inspection approvals for plumbing projects, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District said.

Federal prosecutors said some of the inspectors approved projects not only without making inspections but without even getting out of their trucks and, in one case, did so while having coffee in a doughnut shop.

More inspectors from Queens than from any other borough were charged in what federal prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn said was corruption that took place between the early 1990s and 2001.

U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad and Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn announced the charges against a total of 19 Department of Buildings employees, including 18 current and former plumbing inspectors and one former boiler inspector.

They were charged with extorting bribes in exchange for writing inspection approvals on plumbing projects in New York City. Five of them were 19 defendants were supervisory inspectors, Vinegrad said.

The arrests left the Buildings Department with only eight of its 25 building inspectors.

“These inspectors sold the integrity of their office,” said Hearn.

“I pledge the full resources of my office to identify, target and end the corrupt relationship between city inspectors and members of the public,” she said. “To those contemplating such acts as these, you may be the next to be arrested.”

The defendants from Queens included Franko Dobric, assistant chief plumbing inspector of the borough; Thomas Degoski, plumbing inspector; Vernon Giles, an inspector who retired last September; Carlos Perez, a boiler inspector who retired last year; John Rosenberg of Suffolk County and chief plumbing inspector for Queens; Gregory Sahakian, plumbing inspector, and Frank Gambati of Queens, who was a plumbing inspector in the Bronx, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Vinegrad did not disclose the areas of Queens where those charged live.

The complaints charge each defendant with extortion, unlawfully obtaining money in violation of the Hobbs Act of 1951, a crime punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The New York City Administrative Code requires plumbing work to be inspected at various stages by city inspectors or to be self-certified by a licensed master plumber subject to spot checks by city inspectors. At each such inspection, the licensed master plumber or his designee must meet with the plumbing inspector who approves the work if it meets city requirements. Such approvals are known as “sign offs.”

The complaints unsealed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn last week said the inspectors extorted cash payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Prosecutors said that in many cases inspectors approved plumbing work without performing an inspection. On occasion, in return for cash from a cooperating contractor, inspectors did not even leave their trucks before signing off on projects and one inspector even signed off on two projects while having coffee at a doughnut shop rather than performing an inspection, the U.S. attorney said.

“In other cases, the inspectors performed inspections but overlooked various violations,” court papers said.

Federal prosecutors said a co-operating building contractor wore a recording device, met with building inspectors and made cash payments to them from $50 to $600 and totaling $9,000, according to Vinegrad.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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