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LIC-based city employee indicted in bribery scam

A project manager for the city Department of Design and Construction in Long Island City was indicted last week for allegedly accepting $48,000 in bribes to rig furniture contracts for two southeast Queens day care centers and other sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn, authorities said.

Teresita Sotto, 54, of Brooklyn was arrested April 16 at the department's Long Island City offices, where she worked since 1996, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

A project manager and architect who earned $54,852 a year, Sotto allegedly pocketed $48,000 in payoffs from suppliers who - thanks to her intervention - were awarded 67 contracts worth more than $280,000 to supply furniture and equipment to four children's centers, Brown said.

Two of those centers were in Queens: the Blanche Community Progress Day Care Center at 109-60 202nd St. in Hollis, and the Blanche Community Progress Day Care Center Number 2 at 44-20 Beach Channel Dr. in Rockaway.

Sotto faces a 160-count indictment charging her with grand larceny, bribe receiving, falsifying business records, conspiracy and official misconduct, Brown said. She faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Sotto's arrest emerged from an ongoing investigation that began in September 2000.

"This investigation goes to the very heart of corruption," said Rose Gill Hearn, the commissioner of the city Department of Investigation. "Here an allegedly corrupt city employee manipulated the city's purchasing rules and developed an elaborate scheme with others to line their own pockets rather than help kids and city day care centers in need. Such greedy and selfish acts cannot and will not be tolerated."

The investigation began when officials at the Administration for Children's Services informed the DDC that the furniture purchase for a children's center in Manhattan had gone over budget, sparking an internal audit by the DDC, which then turned its findings over to the Department of Investigation.

Between January 1999 and September 2001, Sotto allegedly conspired to obtain DDC contracts by falsifying documents, gaining insider information and influencing competing bidders, Brown said.

She is also accused of setting up at least four collusive bidding operations in which companies bid against themselves to obtain contracts, which Sotto allegedly collected and submitted for approval, Brown said.

Her reward for that work, Brown alleged, was a cut of the profits from the winning bidders.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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