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The Civic Scene: DOB inspectors who allegedly took bribes must get punished

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Queens civic associations have long taken an interest in the city Department of Buildings because that agency is supposed to preserve the integrity of Queens communities. Homeowners are concerned about their quality of life since the homes they own are probably the most valuable items the families own. People buy a home in a certain neighborhood with a certain type of home and certain schools so they are naturally concerned with the quality of life in an area.

In the past few weeks the Manhattan district attorney has indicted 29 people allegedly involved with the Luchese crime family. Six of those indicted had jobs as city building inspectors. In the past, building inspectors have been indicted for taking bribes, but this is the first time they have been tied to organized crime. The criminal activities took place in Manhattan and the Bronx, but can Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island be far behind?

Those indicted were accused of the usual criminal activities which DOB inspectors have been charged with in the past: taking bribes to compromise the reporting of illegal construction and expediting inspections. Civic leaders do not want larger-than-legal buildings on their blocks, giant buildings which block sunlight, bricks or cement where grass or flowers should be, an illegal number of people in a building or cars and garbage undermining the quality of life.

What has annoyed many civic associations is that the DOB makes a lot of money for the city since builders have to pay for a license and a fee every time they get a permit to build something. With this money, higher salaries could be paid to inspectors, so they should not have to take bribes.

It seems the inspectors were allegedly taking bribes to speed up the granting of permits. Last year the DOB was supposed to have rewritten the building codes to make the system more efficient. But then why do builders bribe inspectors to speed up permits? The DOB takes in a lot of money in fees, so why can’t it use some of this money to speed up the granting of permits?

Another annoying thing about the DOB is that after a civic leader reports what he or she thinks is illegal building, a stop-work order is often placed on the property. After a few weeks or months, the order is lifted and the builder continues to work. The lifting of stop-work orders is one activity for which approximately $120,000 in bribe money supposedly was paid.

Some of those indicted were employed by the DOB in their scaffolding unit. One former inspector who worked from 2004 until last month lived in Oakland Gardens.

Remember that last year two crane collapses killed nine people, including both crane operators and people sitting in their Manhattan apartments. Other workers died when the safety harnesses were not properly used by them on construction sites. All this is because proper safety procedures were not followed because inspectors did not do their jobs.

I am waiting to see the trials of those indicted in the crane collapses. We take too long to bring indicted people to trial. Quicker trials and published punishments might deter illegal activities.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: While many of us have great respect for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it has a number of shortcomings. Annually thousands of us die from tainted food and hundreds of thousands of us become ill. There are many ways for tainted food to get into our food chain and too many loopholes in our regulations designed to keep tainted food from making us sick.

Too often cattle are kept too near water supplies susceptible to E. coli from cattle waste. Then there are pieces of beef from different parts of a cow, or from cows from different states or even other countries, which are ground up together and mixed so bacteria on the outside of meat ends up inside. One would have to really cook the meat well to kill bacteria.

Regretfully, the agriculture industry has a strong lobby which tries to save money by not spending too much on testing and recalls of tainted food. Most people get sick; some are paralyzed or die. Sadly, Congress listens to the agriculture lobbyists.

The USDA should have an undersecretary for food safety who has more power to recall tainted food and shut down plants with bacteria. It should be illegal to discourage and lobby against the full testing of food for pathogens.

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